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    Sale 2248 | Lot 194
    Price Realized: $15,600With Buyer's Premium
    Show Hammer Price
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    • Sale 2248 Lot 194

      SMITH, W. EUGENE (1918-1978)
      "Minamata --Tomoko and Her Mother (Japan)." Silver print, 7 3/4x12 3/4 inches (19.7x32.4 cm.), with Smith's signature, with a stylus, on recto and his signature, in pencil, and the title, in pencil, in an unknown hand, on mount recto. 1972
      Estimate $12,000-18,000

      The "Minamata disease," as it was first known, referred to the severe poisoning of multiple generations in a town from the release of mercury into the water (and, by extension, the fish population used for food) by a local factory. The Japanese government was slow to recognize conditions in the town, and by the time Smith arrived, thousands had become victims.

      Smith and his wife, Aileen, who had visited Japan with his retrospective "Let Truth Be the Prejudice," soon both became deeply committed to the cause and struggle of the victims and activists. In this last major series before his death, Smith published photographs, essays and articles, and eventually the book titled simply Minamata, each crafted to bring attention to a historical event and documenting human endurance.

      The photographer captures this raw, painful moment, as a mother bathes her severely disabled daughter, her face radiant with love. Each of their bodies, including the daughter's thin, twisted torso and hands, are treated with bright, light contrast, a modern Madonna. Smith stands back to let this quiet moment speak for itself. But his appeal, his silent finger pointing our gaze to the tragedy, to love, to the simple daily task wrought large, is timeless and powerful. Smith recognized photography's potential, and wrote about how a single image may simultaneously document, editorialize and bring forth emotion: "Photography is a small voice. I believe in it. If it is well-conceived, it sometimes works. That is why I and also Aileen photograph in Minamata."

      From the Witkin Gallery, New York; to the present owner circa 1975.

      W. Eugene Smith: Master of the Photographic Essay, 36:052.

      Price Realized (with Buyer's Premium) $15,600