To be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A biography of W. Eugene Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, with a faint thread of my own saga researching Smith for fifteen-plus years. The manuscript will be completed by Fall 2012. The working title is Gene Smith’s Sink, but I also like the title Chaos Manor, which is also the title of a related theater project I’m working on with director Christopher McElroen.
Paris Review Daily is publishing a number of pieces that I’ve written in a series they call “Notes of a Biographer.” You can find them HERE.
Here are several quotes that motivated my original, 70-page proposal for this book. My thinking has changed since then to some degree, but these quotes remain relevant.
“I have tried to write Paradise
Do not move
let the wind speak
that is paradise.
Let the gods forgive what I
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.”
- Ezra Pound, Notes to Canto CXX
“I have a cult of followers throughout the world who look up to me as the shining light and the protector of integrity and as the one who never compromises my beliefs before pressures of the commercial or outside world. Perhaps this, too, is a reason I am unhappy because I am afraid I will let these people and the world down and it never allows me to quite relax enough to live the life of a human being and it means I must always be at war with what I consider to be evil and wrong, and I just doubt my own strength to go on and on and on in this fight. Some of my closer friends beg me to stop sacrificing my health and perhaps even my life upon this altar of integrity for few of those for whom I am doing it care that it is being done.”
- W. Eugene Smith, age 34, from a letter to his mother, Nettie Smith, 1953.
“I think that Gene Smith was the last American photographer who believed that his work was the message and he was the messenger to tell you that it is true and that it will survive.”
- Smith’s friend Robert Frank, from a letter to Sam Stephenson, 2001.
Alfred A. Knopf – November 2009
“a work of social archaeology” – Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian of London
“a book whose pages convey, beautifully, the strange cultural moment when a rat-infested hulk of a building hosted a perfect storm of creativity.” – Financial Times Weekend Magazine.
“a stunning cross of scholarly history and Smith’s haunted photography.” - Village Voice
“One of only thirteen books in 2009 to make each Year End lists of Publisher’s Weekly, Amazon, and the New York Times.” – Amazon
“The most chaotic and soulful gift book this year…The book is an elegiac stew of sight and sound, and a singularly weird, vital and thrumming American document.” – Dwight Garner, New York Times
“The samples from the tapes that Stephenson had transcribed work with the photos to bring a moment in jazz loft life as perhaps no work in any other medium, including documentary cinema, ever has. Absolutely magnificent.” – Booklist, starred review.
“(A) landmark book…This will be an essential book for jazz fans, photographer lovers and those interested in the history of New York.” – Publisher’s Weekly, starred review.
“Every obsessive deserves his own obsessive Boswell, and W. Eugene Smith has his in Sam Stephenson” – Fred Kaplan, New York magazine.
W.W. Norton and the Center for Documentary Studies, 2001
“Smith’s obsessiveness was harnessed to an enormous talent, he wasn’t far from the mark when he wrote that this work would ‘create history.”–Vicky Goldberg, New York Times
“These images are about the life that never gets into headlines. Gene Smith’s Pittsburgh photographs show how much we still resemble those citizens in the summer of 1955. And in his majestic inability to admit defeat we can see how dangerous that confidence could be to a man who saw its limits, and refused to give in,”–Mary Panzer, Chicago Tribune
“Smith imagined a visual collage to rival Finnegan’s Wake in scope and intensity. His astonishing ambition was his Faustian pact with the city. There are no touching displays [in Dream Street] of picturesque individuality, just a city aesthetically dissected.” –TIME OUT London
“More Dante than Joyce, this [Dream Street] is a magnificent vision of light and dark.”—Evening Standard (London)
“Viewed together in this compelling, commanding publication, Smith’s photographs present energetic images of hope and despair, rebuilding and decay, poverty and affluence, and solitude and togetherness…. These images of mid-century, post-war Pittsburgh powerfully resonate with America today.”—B&W (Black & White Magazine for Collectors of Fine Photography)
“Dream Street allows us to assess Smith’s greatest achievement; an extensive, complex, and utterly engaging photo-essay, each element of which has genuine bite.”—Vincent Aletti, Village Voice
“Smith’s presence haunts this 176-page book, even a quarter century after his death.”
—Washington City Paper
Phaidon Press, 2001