Issue #246  12/17/2018
Etherton Gallery Places W. Eugene Smith Minamata Archive with Library of Congress
Etherton Gallery exhibit at AIPAD'S New York Photography Show.
Etherton Gallery exhibit at AIPAD'S New York Photography Show.

The Etherton Gallery of Tucson, AZ, has placed the Takeshi Ishikawa Archive of W. Eugene Smith's Minamata photographs with the Library of Congress. The gallery had taken a major gamble by making Smith its entire booth at this year's AIPAD New York Photography Show, which clearly paid off.

The archive, assembled by Takeshi Ishikawa, Smith's assistant in Japan from 1971-1974, includes 100 vintage gelatin silver prints from "Minamata", the first major photographic essay to document an environmental disaster and the last project Smith completed before his death. Fifteen portraits of Smith taken by Ishikawa will also accompany the archive, a gift from Ishikawa and Etherton Gallery.

With this acquisition the Library of Congress becomes the largest holder of Smith's Minamata work by any museum, other than the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography. Etherton Gallery owner Terry Etherton said, "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."

The essay documented the suffering of the people of Minamata, Japan, and the ongoing dispute with the Chisso Chemical Corp., which reportedly knowingly polluted the water, causing the severe nerve damage that came to be known as Minamata disease. Asked by a victim's group in 1971 to bring attention to their plight, Smith, wife Aileen Mioko Smith, and Ishikawa immersed themselves in the village to document "the people, their struggle, their shame, and their courage," as Gene Smith wrote in their 1975 book, "Minamata".

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), and a film is reportedly in the works with actor Johnnie Depp to play Smith, based on the Minamata book.