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

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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From The New Yorker

In 1955, the historian Stefan Lorant hired W. Eugene Smith to make a hundred photographs of contemporary Pittsburgh for a book in celebration of the city's bicentennial; he expected the job to take no more than three weeks. But Smith, whose grand ambitions and uncompromising aesthetic had recently led him to resign his stormy tenure at Life, quickly became obsessed, shooting some seventeen thousand pictures. Inspired by Joyce and Faulkner, Smith envisioned a symphonic, multilayered photo essay portraying the entire city; his failure to complete it haunted him for the rest of his life. Here are more than a hundred and fifty of his noirish and oddly poignant images: gleaming railyards at night; buildings wrapped in clouds of industrial smoke; the face of a steelworker, the Bessemer fires reflected in his safety goggles.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“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)

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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 (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,055,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
Pittsburgh -- the smoky city at the end of an era -- Snap shots frozen in time through a sensitive and interpretative lens.
Smith's book provides a true insight into the people, business and architecture of the Pittsburgh of the late Fifties. These were the days when Mayor Davey Lawrence was setting about to destroy and forget the old, ushering in the new. Steel was still king with its blast furnaces spewing smoke. Street cars still rumbled through city streets.
For the reader interested in the nostalgia of the times, for those seeking the artistry of the lens, for the serious student of metropolitan evolution this book is a must read!
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Format: Hardcover
This collection of photograph shows what Pittsburgh was like while the steel mills functioned there. But the images capture all facets of life in Pittsburgh during this era, not just life in the mills. For example, you will see a couple playing shuffleboard at the Fox Chapel Country Club and contrast that with street scenes of poor neighborhoods. You'll see the fine old Mellon Bank building in dowtown Pittsburgh and the Duquesne Club nearby. The pictures of men laboring near the furnaces of Pittsburgh's steel mills portray the lives these men led in contrast.
I also enjoyed the pictures of Forbes Field and its envrions, the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The book includes a wonderful picture of "Home Plate Cafe" and the home of the "Original Kolbassi Sandwich."
The pictures are beautifully reproduced. The book is reasonably priced consudering the quality of what you get. The photography is superb.
If you know Pittsburgh, it is a trip down memory lane. If you don't know what Pittsburgh was then like, this book will show you.
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Format: Hardcover
The Pittsburgh project gallery (shown in Pgh and other cities this year) is a fantastic display of nearly 200 prints that comprise one of the most important works of a great photographer. While reproductions hardly do justice to most fine prints, I recommend this book as a companion to the show, as well as a way to view the work if you are not able to see the gallery at one of the few cities in which it appears. I grew up in Pittsburgh, though long after these shots were taken. It is a spectacular look at mid-century Pittsburgh, and mid-century America.
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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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