The MAST Foundation presents for the first time in Italy an exhibition entirely dedicated to American photographer W: Eugene Smith and to the monumental body of work he realised from 1955 onwards in Pittsburgh, the most powerful industrial city in the world at the time.
The project, which Smith considered the most ambitious of his career, marked a turning point in his professional and personal life. Aged thirty-six, after his achievement of success and fame as a photojournalist documenting some of the most important events of World War II for “Life,”he decided to break with the nearly intolerable limitations imposed by the media and devoted himself to photography from a position of total expressive freedom.
His first commission as a freelancer was to take 80 to 100 photos of Pittsburgh for a publication celebrating the bicentennial of its foundation. The city was in the midst of an economic boom driven by the growth of the steel industry, and in particular its steel mills, which guaranteed employment and drew workers from all over the world.
Smith was fascinated by the City of Steel, the faces of the workers, its streets, its factories and the infinite details and contradictions of its social fabric, painstakingly recording it all in order to create a comprehensive portrait of the city. He was driven by the desire to find the absolute, to be truly present and prepared in the sparse moments in which the truth of life manifests itself in worldly phenomena. Pittsburgh soon became his obsession. Instead of shooting for six weeks, he took photographs for two or three years, then spent the rest of his life struggling with the almost 20,000 negatives and 2,000 master prints, doggedly pursuing his ultimate ambition: to create the definitive book on Pittsburgh, an unprecedented work in the history of photography.
Theproject never came to an end and only a small number of images were published.
Curated by Urs Stahel, the exhibition at MAST displays a group of 170 core pictures from this magnificent and painstaking work, providing a portrayal of Pittsburgh but also of America in the 1950s, with its lights and shadows and its promises of happiness and progress.
The exhibition is organised by the MAST Foundation in collaboration with Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
Photos © W. Eugene Smith / Magnum Photos