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
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“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)