I spent a lot of time when I had my first computer looking up people I had admired through the years; I still do as new information pops up all the time.
When my Dad and I first started playing with photography around 1967, we knew someone who was a member of a black and white "salon print" club, started attending meetings and then joined. Among the many names of the photographers they all admired I kept hearing of W. Eugene Smith. If you've seen WW2 photographs from "Life" magazine, you've most likely seen some of the work that made him famous.
In the early 70's he and his wife moved to Minimata, Japan as he worked on a photo essay about the effects of the Chisso Corporation's dumping of mercury in their wastewater from 1937-1968. The disease named for the city, first diagnosed in 1956, was the result of the mercury accumulation in the fish and shellfish that those surrounding the bay lived on. Though the deaths had gone on for more than 30 years the government nor the company did much to halt them.
Smith tried to use the power of the photo essay to make the world take notice of the plight of the villagers. His reward was a beating at the hands of company employees on January 7, 1972 that was so terrible that his sight in one eye deteriorated, his health was permanently damaged and slowly worsened until his fatal stroke in 1978. Their attempt to stop his work, however, failed as he still finished his essay, including a photo called "Tomoko Uemura in her Bath"; the most famous of the series, showing a mother bathing her crippled daughter. Though withdrawn from circulation by Smith's widow Aileen at the request of the girl's family after her death (she gave the copyright to them so they could decide when and where it could be used) a Google search will still find it. Barack Obama has cited seeing it in a textbook as part of what has influenced his view of environmental issues.
The photo I'm going to include here is "Tomoko's Hand", from Wikipedia and credited to the Aileen Archive. Smith's widow Aileen has continued his fight to bring the attention to Minimata disease. His prints are yet again on display at a museum on the East Coast right now; his wife was just in Japan for a commemoration of the anniversary of the date the disease was tied to the mercury discharge from Chrisso's plant.
Chisso had paid small settlements even before WW2 began for other chemicals they had released into the fishery; as this began they deployed water treatment systems that didn't really treat the water; legal maneuvering; minimal financial settlements...their tactics seem to have been a blueprint for other companies all over the world, ones we've become all to familiar with.
They continue to this day; there are still lawsuits, still "spin" going on (one of the newest is referring to "Mad Hatter's Disease" instead of calling it "Minimata Disease" to disassociate themselves from it).
As I look out into the Gulf of Mexico and see all that is transpiring there; as I think of the $500,000 acoustic shut-off valve that would have shut the well down immediately when the "blow-out preventer" the company had "altered" from it's original design and left with dead batteries in it (the acoustic shut-off that is required elsewhere in the world but exempted for all wells in the Gulf by Mssr's Bush and Cheney); as I see the almost million gallons of a dispersant that's been illegal to use in Britain for 10 years because of it's toxicity; as I see those who had their hands on the throttle as the train left the tracks allowed to say what can and can't be done towards clean-up and mitigation...
I sometimes wonder if we ever truly learn from anything!
May the weekend be kind to each of you!