Friday, December 29, 2017

Arty Farty Friday ~ William Eugene Smith

William Eugene Smith, born on 30 December 1918 in Wichita, Kansas, was a photo-journalist, famous in his time, and some say in his methods and output, born way "before his time".
Snips from, HERE
The war in the South Pacific, a country doctor in Colorado, victims of industrial pollution in a Japanese village — all of these were captured in unforgettable photographs by the legendary W. Eugene Smith. No matter where, what, or whom he was shooting, Smith drove himself relentlessly to create evocative portraits that revealed the essence of his subjects in a way that touched the emotions and conscience of viewers. The works of this brilliant and complicated man remain a plea for the causes of social justice and a testament to the art of photography. Smith learned about photography from his mother, Nettie. By the age of thirteen he was committed to the craft, and by twenty-one he had been published in dozens of magazines. A breakthrough for Smith came during World War II, when he received an assignment to cover the war in the Pacific. In the spirit that characterized his lifelong approach toward his work, Smith threw himself into the action. He photographed on land, in the sea, and in the air, hoping to get to the center of the experience of war, and, in his words, “sink into the heart of the picture.”
After the war Smith became one of the leading lights in LIFE magazine, with a variety of projects such as
“Nurse Midwife,” the story of Maude Callen, a black woman working in an impoverished community in the rural South, Smith wanted his essay to “make a very strong point about racism, by simply showing a remarkable woman doing a remarkable job in an impossible situation.”

Smith relied heavily on alcohol and amphetamines to keep up with the demands he made on himself. He was a perfectionist's perfectionist in his approach to photography. The volume of his work is astounding: tens of thousands of photographs on each project, with months, even years of research to reach a proper understanding of each subject.

 The kind of photo-essay for which Smith became  famous

From an article in The Guardian:
...Even at this early age, Smith was an unpredictable and self-sabotaging individual. At Newsweek, he was fired for repeatedly using a small-format camera that the magazine’s photo department prohibited. He quit Life a decade later after a row about how they had presented one of his images of the Nobel prize-winning physician and humanitarian campaigner Albert Schweitzer.

Controversy dogged him even after his death: what many consider his most powerful photograph, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath (1971), a starkly intimate portrait of Ryoko Uemara bathing her naked daughter, Tomoko, who has severe deformities from the effects of mercury poisoning, was withdrawn from further publication in 1997 at the wishes of Tomoko’s family.

Throughout his career, Smith railed against authority, often alienating the very editors whose imposed boundaries he needed when his obsessive quest for perfectionism became self-defeating. “Whatever demons that drive him were certainly not appeased by the alcohol and amphetamines,” says Stephenson. “One of the themes that I hope is apparent in the book is the sense that he needed care and attention in order to get his work done. Mostly he didn’t have it in his life, because he was so hard to work with. It is one of the great ironies of his life that he alienated the people – editors, assistants – who would have helped him the most.”
In the later years of his life (he died aged 59) Smith lived in a loft in New York City, where artists, jazz musicians and other luminaries of the time would gather. There is a huge collection of photographs from that era, as well as another huge collection of audio tapes.
More startling still are the 1,740 reels of audio tape, which were made by Smith between 1957 and 1965 in his previous loft apartment in 6th Avenue near West 28th Street. They contain around 4,500 hours of mostly ambient recordings often caught clandestinely on microphones he draped on dangling leads throughout the loft and in its stairways. These tapes reveal Smith’s seeming desire to document everything going on around him – and not just through photographs.

I like the photograph of Smith's shown below. I'm wary of posting more here due to possible copyright infringement - anyway, it's impossible to get good quality representation of his photographs via Blogger's platform.

Dream Street   © The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith

ThisYouTube presentation on Smith (18 mins long) is well worth a look; it includes images of some of his best-known photographs.


A few of my own thoughts only - not a full interpretation.

Born on 30 December 1918, Wichita, Kansas, USA. No time of birth is known, chart set for 12 noon, so Moon position and ascendant will not be exactly as shown.

After reading about Smith, his unpredictability, his kicking against authority, and his social conscience, before ever looking at his natal chart, though his birth date told me he had natal Sun in Capricorn, I had a little bet with myself that there would be some Aquarius (eccentricities, social conscience) highlighted. Yes! Uranus, ruler of Aquarius is there in its home sign, and so is natal Mars.

In a photographer's natal chart, quite often, either Pisces or Neptune is prominent in some way, both sign and planet are said to relate to photography (among other things). Without Smith's time of birth his natal Moon's position is uncertain, but it is likely to be in early degrees of Sagittarius, and if so, would be in very nice harmonious trine aspect to Neptune at 8 Leo.

Smith's main personality trait, picked up from online sources, was his obsessive perfectionism with regard to his art and his craft, also his urge to produce an excessively large volume of output for each project. Perfectionism, in astrological terms, links strongly to Virgo. There are no planets in Virgo, but it's possible that Virgo was the ascending sign at the time of his birth, though that cannot be established. Another facet of his perfectionism was his obsession with it. Obsession often links to Scorpio and/or Pluto. Smith, had no planet in Scorpio (unless Moon happened to have been in the very last minutes of that sign, or Scorpio were rising at the time of his birth). Natal Pluto, though, was conjunct Jupiter in Cancer and in opposition to his Sun and Venus in Capricorn. Translating that from astrologese to plain language, His "feet on the ground", ultra-practical, economical Capricorn side was in constant struggle with an obsessive urge for excess, all of which was aided and abetted by Mercury (and probably Moon) in Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius.

There's another significant opposition in Smith's chart, Saturn (Capricorn's ruler)is in opposition, from Leo, to Uranus (Aquarius' modern ruler) - an additional indication of contrast and conflict in his nature.

There's a Yod (Finger of Fate) formation in Smith's chart - I like these! A helpful sextile aspect between Moon (if somewhere near the noon position) and Mars, links via two quincunx aspects (150 degree angles) to Pluto/Jupiter at the apex of the formation. This adds extra emphasis to the obsessions for perfection and excess, so prominent in the nature of William Eugene Smith.

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