Etherton Gallery places Takeshi Ishikawa Archive of W. Eugene Smith Photographs with Library of Congress on the 100th Anniversary of his birth.
Etherton Gallery announced an acquisition that celebrates the continued vital importance of the photography of W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978) on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The gallery has placed the Takeshi Ishikawa Archive of W. Eugene Smith Photographs with the Library of Congress. The archive comprises 100 vintage gelatin silver prints from Smith’s last photo essay, Minamata, which document the effects of mercury poisoning by the Chisso chemical company on the residents of Minamata, a small fishing village in southeastern Japan in the early 1970s. Minamata stands as the first major documentary project devoted to an environmental crisis. The Archive also includes 15 portraits of W. Eugene Smith made in Minamata by Takeshi Ishikawa. The 15 photographs by Takeshi Ishikawa are a gift to the Library of Congress from Takeshi Ishikawa and Etherton Gallery.
Eugene Smith lived in Japan between 1971 and 1974, working primarily in the village of Minamata. He printed all the photographs included in the Archive between 1971 and 1974 during his stay. Before Smith left Japan for good in 1974, he gave a large group of photographs to his young Japanese assistant, Takeshi Ishikawa. Ishikawa met Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen Sprague Smith in Tokyo in 1971. He moved to Minamata with the Smiths, lived with the couple, photographed alongside Smith and assisted him in Smith’s makeshift darkroom. Ishikawa selected the best examples of the prints that Smith made for the Archive. The Archive includes photographs of the Chisso Corporation trial, iconic images of the affected families, and views of Minamata Bay. Several of these photographs are unpublished and were exhibited outside Japan for the first time at The AIPAD Photography Show in 2018 by Etherton Gallery.
With this acquisition The Library of Congress becomes the largest holder of Smith’s Minamata exhibition prints by any museum other than the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography. Said Etherton Gallery owner Terry Etherton, “I am so pleased that we were able to work with the Library of Congress to secure a home for The Archive. The Takeshi Ishikawa Archive of W. Eugene Smith photographs will provide an incredible resource for those interested in the work of one of the great documentary photographers of the 20th century.“
In an era of political and environmental challenges and upheaval, the story behind Smith’s Minamata project remains all too relevant today. Chisso had known since the 1950s that untreated mercury caused severe neurological disorders, birth defects and the destruction of the local fisheries, but hid it from the local population and dumped untreated effluent into Minamata Bay. Set against the profound transformation of Japan following World War II, the allegations against Chisso created a huge scandal in Japan. Thanks to Smith, for the first time, an environmental disaster was treated as a humanitarian crisis worthy of international concern. In 2018, it was announced that Johnny Depp had signed on to play W. Eugene Smith in a biopic about Minamata, based on Smith’s book, Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage. Production is set to begin in January, 2019.
The gallery would like to thank the Staff, Librarians and Acquisitions Committee at the Library of Congress and photographer Takeshi Ishikawa, for their commitment to W. Eugene Smith’s work, in particular the groundbreaking Minamata photographs.