W. Eugene Smith’s famous photos: free in Tokyo

Through May 31 in Tokyo, you can see a small exhibit of W. Eugene Smith‘s photographs up close and for free, at Fuji Film Square, a gallery in the Midtown development in Roppongi.

I have strong and early memories of the photo above, which is titled “Walk to Paradise Garden.” It must have been one of the first photographs I ever really looked at, because it appeared in a book of photographs that was in my home when I was small. I’ll bet some of you grew up with the same book. Does this cover look familiar?

The book was actually the exhibition catalog from The Family of Man, an exhibition organized by Edward Steichen and first shown in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It has sold more than 4 million copies

I didn’t know until recently that Smith took the photograph, or that he worked in Japan during and after the war. He took mortar fire on Okinawa and was unable to hold a camera for some time. One of the first photographs he took after being wounded was “Walk to Paradise Garden,” this photograph of his young children walking hand in hand towards a clearing in a wood.

As I stood looking at the photograph in Fuji Square, two older Japanese women in front of me were busy calculating how old the little boy and girl in the photograph must be now. Figuring that the kids were maybe two and three when the photograph was shot in 1946, they estimated that they must be pushing 70.

All the photographs on exhibit are from the collection of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Yamanashi Prefecture.

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2 Responses to W. Eugene Smith’s famous photos: free in Tokyo

  1. Hi Alice,
    Indeed I do remember the cover of “The Family of Man”. I am one of the 4 million that purchased it. A deeply affecting collection of photos. It is still on my shelf. Along with “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee these books set the course for a lifetime of education.
    Thanks for the memory.
    Cheers, Debra

  2. Allan Murphy says:

    Dear Alice,
    Thank you for the information about W Eugene Smith’s exhibition. I’ll visit asap. The Fuji gallery often has remarkable works. I saw Ansel Adams’ original prints there not too long ago. Gene Smith was a very interesting man. He was a staff photographer for Life (a plum job at the time) but argued frequently with editors about his art. Yes, he was wounded in Okinawa. A facial injury left him with a slight speech impediment. In the mid-1950s, he quit Life in a professional disagreement . He moved into a loft in NYC. Several jazz musicians lived there and they would often jam. Smith was very keen on post-war recording machines. He wired the house with microphones in every room. He recorded hundreds of hours of chatter, hot jazz and etc. These recordings are now seen to be on a par with his photographic legacy.

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