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Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project Paperback – October 17, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393325121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393325126
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“The fortunate match of a brilliant picture-maker with one of America's most important and arresting industrial cities at its zenith.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)

“Smith's attempt to record the paradoxes of city life in America...was harnessed to an enormous talent, and he wasn't far from the mark when he wrote that his essay would 'create history.'” (New York Times)

About the Author

Sam Stephenson is a writer and consultant at the Center for Documentary Studies.

Alan Trachtenberg is Neil Grey Professor of American Studies and English Literature at Yale University.

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Customer Reviews

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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By DutchBird on June 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sam Stephenson's dedication and perseverance to bringing W. Eugene Smith's immense "Pittsburgh Project" into view deserves unstinting kudos, praise and thanks from every viewer and photographer who has ever wondered about Smith's Pittsburgh project and asked themselves: "I wonder what happened during those four years? And what about the thousands (15,000? 17,000? 20,000?) of photographs he took?" This book has most of the answers, and while Alan Trachtenberg's essay is very informative, it is Stephenson's documentary digging, discovering, editing and yes, dreaming about what Smith intended that makes this volume so valuable.

So why four, instead of five stars? Some technical printing issues and editorial choices about presentation. To wit:

1) The reproduction of the photos is just so-so. Blacks not saturated, whites are gray, the image surface is flat. Smith's prints sing; the book's reproductions only hum. I know high-quality printing would make the book cost ten times as much. It would be worth it for everyone who has never seen a Smith exhibition print.

2) The individual notes on the photographs are all collected together at the end of the book. I know this is a cost issue -- but it's darned annoying to constantly flip back and forth to read the notes about the images, rather than scan them while in the flow. Smith's photographs form a narrative, and the words and captions are important, even if Smith himself didn't always think so.

3) There are not enough examples of Smith's working style. I saw some of his contact sheets from this project -- they are amazing! So are his work prints. More documentation on how he shot, printed, edited and re-edited his work would be a help in understanding both the successes and failures of this Sisyphean project.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
DREAM STREET is a book about two tragic heroes: W. Eugene Smith and the City of Pittsburgh. Smith was a great photographer who wanted to do much more than take technically accomplished and aesthetically moving photographs. He wanted to change the world and he also wanted to create a magnum opus that would be for the medium of photography what Joyce's "Ulysses" was for literature or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was for music. (Smith also was as driven and socially maladjusted as James Joyce and Ludwig van Beethoven.) By the end of 1954, he probably was the most widely-known and highly regarded photojournalist in the United States, by virtue of years of work for "Life". But Smith and commercial interests, as represented at the magazine, were incompatible, and Smith quit in a self-righteous huff.

The first free-lance assignment Smith was offered after resigning from "Life" was to produce 100 prints for a book commemorating the bicentennial of Pittsburgh - a "chamber of commerce"-type exercise in civic boosterism and self-congratulation. The man who hired him expected it would take Smith three weeks. Smith arrived in Pittsburgh in March 1955 and spent the next month reading about and exploring the city and parts of the next two years taking more than 17,000 negatives. His Pittsburgh project was to be his "Ulysses", his Ninth Symphony. Via a photo-essay of epic proportion, Smith wanted to show, in general, "the relationship of industrial to man" and, more specifically, to portray the city of Pittsburgh in all its diversity as "a living entity", a single organism. He never was able to wrestle the project into a form that was remotely satisfactory to him.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James R. Holland VINE VOICE on June 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
It's amazing what nearly half a century of prospective and hindsight makes on the opinion of a great photographer's work. This reviewer first saw 88 pages of this work in the "1959 Popular Photography Annual" essay called "Labyrinthian Walk." In that publication, W. Eugene Smith had total editorial control of the text, photos, layout and editing of his masterpiece. As a young teenager new to photography and photojournalism, I was fawning over the Pittsburgh images by one of the world's universally acclaimed photojournalists who had already gained mythic stature because of his stubborn and public maverick tendencies. Smith had taken some of the best war photographs ever made. They were so good they almost looked like the still photographs from Hollywood war movies. They weren't, they were real and from actual battlefields of the South Pacific. He was badly wounded taking some of them. Smith had helped pioneer the development of the picture story in "Life" Magazine's stories about the Country Doctor, the nobility of a South Carolina black nurse-midwife, the Spanish Village and his coverage of Albert Schweitzer and his African Hospital among others.
Leaving his high-paying job as a staff photographer for "Life" because of battle royals with the picture magazine's editors over control of his picture story layouts, design and text, in 1955 Smith took a three-week Magnum Agency assignment to illustrate a book by Stefan Lorant commemorating the bicentennial and the "Renaissance of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Smith was anxious to prove to the "Life" magazine editors and management that he could produce a revolutionary new form of photographic essay. Since he was going to Pittsburgh he decided to prove his theory on his coverage of that city.
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