“IN MEMORY OF THINGS OBSCENE”
SMITH, W. Eugene and SMITH, Aileen M. Minamata. New York: Alskog-Sensorium/Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. Large quarto, original stiff black laminated wrappers, original glassine. $1850.
First trade edition in wrappers of W. Eugene Smith’s last major photobook, presentation/association copy inscribed on the half title within days of publication to a respected Depression-era photographer of the FSA, “To Charlie Rotkin, in memory of things obscene. W. Eugene Smith, April 10, 1975,” additionally signed by Smith’s wife and co-author Aileen M. Smith. Featuring 150 finely screened photogravures documenting the tragedy of Minamata.
Minamata, W. Eugene Smith's last major photo essay, stands as "an ideal of what can be done with the medium" (New York Times). Smith, together with his wife and co-author Aileen, spent nearly a year documenting the devastating effects of industrial pollution on a small Japanese village—a tragedy that, in Smith's words, stood as "a severe warning… the beginning of a new industrial revolution… It is certainly going to condition minds and set precedents that will have repercussions throughout the world." As Cornell Capa notes, in these searing images we find "great photographs that will survive all of us. They have strength of conviction. Smith has done the ultimate in sublimation of self, sublimation of art" (Hughes, 483, 521). In his New York Times review, Paul Theroux wrote that these "superb photographs only emphasize that beauty is the beginning of terror." Smith's haunting picture "of 16-year-old Tomoko Uemura being bathed by her mother is the last great photograph Smith was to make before his death in 1978. In this image, the tragedy of Minamata is recorded and transcended at the same time" (Roth, 232). The "superb printing" of Minamata, "personally supervised" by Eugene Smith, was completed "at the end of April, not long after" the opening of the coincident exhibit at New York's new International Center of Photography (Hughes, 521). This copy is dated by Smith within days of its publication. Trade edition published same month in cloth, in wrappers, and as a "deluxe" edition, no priority established. With scarce original glassine, rarely found. See Szarkowski, 150. Charles Rotkin is best known for his work for the "photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration [that] has come to epitomize documentary photography." The work of these photographers, among them Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, has "produced some of the most iconic images of the decade" (Parr & Badger I:121). Inkstamp of literary agent Anita Diamant on lower corner of half title.
Images fresh and bright; light edge-wear to wrappers and glassine. A near-fine inscribed copy with a distinctive association.