Tuesday, July 16, 2013

World's Most Unforgettable Photos

 LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith's children, Juanita and Patrick, walk hand-in-hand into a clearing in 1946. The photo was the closing image in Edward Steichen's now-legendary 1955 MoMA exhibition, The Family of Man

The first time I saw this photograph back in 1992 somewhere in Iloilo City where I got hold of a LIFE Magazine coffee table book, I was simply blown away. There was something in the photo that tugged at my heart perhaps because I haven't been that open and expressive with my feelings particularly with friends and family. 

The image of a a young boy leading his sister into a clearing was seared forever in my mind. 

I had been looking for this picture ever since and finally after 21 years, I got to see this iconic photo again. Thanks to Chrismael Caldo

So here's the story behind the photo and the man who took it as written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes 

A Walk To The Paradise GardenW. Eugene Smith was no doubt one of the greatest war correspondents of the last century. As the photographer for Life, he followed the island-hopping American offensive against Japan, from Saipan to Guam, from Iwo Jima to Okinawa, where he was hit by mortar fire, and invalided back.

His war wounds cost him two painful years of hospitalization and plastic surgery. During those years he took no photos, and it was doubtful whether he would ever be able to return to photography. Then one day in 1946, he took a walk with his two children, Juanita and Patrick, towards a sun-bathed clearing:

While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees – how they were delighted at every little discovery! – and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it….
Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. I dropped a little farther behind the engrossed children, then stopped. Painfully I struggled — almost into panic — with the mechanical iniquities of the camera….
I tried to, and ignore the sudden violence of pain that real effort shot again and again through my hand, up my hand, and into my spine … swallowing, sucking, gagging, trying to pull the ugly tasting serum inside, into my mouth and throat, and away from dripping down on the camera….
I knew the photograph, though not perfect, and however unimportant to the world, had been held…. I was aware that mentally, spiritually, even physically, I had taken a first good stride away from those past two wasted and stifled years.  

While he was right about his stride towards recovery, Smith miscalculated the photo’s importance. 

In 1955, a heavily-indebted Smith decided to submit the photo to Edward Steichen’s now-famous Family of Man exhibit at the MOMA. There, it became a finalist and then the closing image, thus cementing its position as the ur-icon of all family photographs.



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