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W. Eugene Smith archive

Identifier: AG 33

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

Series 1, Correspondence, 1933-1978, includes 16 boxes of Correspondence with editors, other photographers, relatives, gallery owners, agents, students, friends, and others. Subjects discussed include publication, exhibition, and sale of photographs; financial matters; teaching positions, workshops, and lectures; photographic essay projects; and a wide range of similar topics relating to Smith's life and photography. Includes both incoming and outgoing letters.

Series 2, Biographical Materials, 1910-1978, includes a vast array of materials related to Smith's life. Compiling of 9 boxes, materials include chronologies of Smith's career, newspaper clippings, personal material related to Smith's life, family, and children, school records, passports and IDs, address books and calenders, yearbooks, family photographs, and photographic albums. Files containing extensive chronologies of Smith's career, passports, divorce and marriage certificates, selective service records, papers relating to the settlement of his mother's estate, and legal papers such as affidavits, summonses, and insurance forms. some medical records, family photograph albums, and school yearbooks are also included.Smith's medical records are restricted.

Series 3, Photographic Essay Project Files, 1937-1978, includes background research material, correspondence, project expense records, writings and layouts for published and unpublished photographic essays as well as commercial work and other projects. Projects that are well documented in the papers include Black Star Publishing Company, 1938-42; War correspondent Files, ca. 1942-77; Pittsburgh Project files, 1953-59; The Big Book Files; Hitachi/Japan Project Files, 1961-62; Aperture Book Project Files, 1969; and Minamata Project Files, 1971-76.

Series 4, Activity Files, 1944-1978, includes material related to Sensorium Magazine, research files, artists, people of interest, events, and other topics of interest. There are also teaching files, membership and association files, grants, and other professional activities.

Series 5, Writings and Interviews, 1943-1978, includes published and unpublished writings by and about Smith and transcripts of interviews with Smith. Many of the writings by Smith are fragments (such as the note cards) or incomplete drafts of articles, fiction, poetry, and plays. General subjects covered include philosophy, politics, justice, art and love. There are also specific comments on photographic technique, photo-journalism, layout, and Smith's intentions in his work. The note cards and other incomplete writings are difficult to date.

Series 6, Exhibition Files, 1944-1978, are related to Smith's exhibitions and comprise of 8 boxes. Brochures, notices, press releases, paste-up and instructions for laying out exhibits, photographs of exhibit installations, and lists of photographs considered for display, and similar material relating to exhibitions of Smith's photographs. There is extensive documentation of the Jewish Museum show, Let Truth Be the Prejudice, 1971, but many of the other exhibitions are represented only by an announcement of poster.

Series 7, Publications and Printed Materials, 1938-1978, includes books, magazines and periodicals, tear sheets, albums and scrapbooks, Minamata publication files, and other publications and printed materials.

Series 8, Financial Records, 1942, 1953-1978, is compiled of 6 boxes related to Smith's finances. Bank and income tax records, receipts, bills, ledgers, correspondence, and similar material related to Smith's personal and professional finances. The financial records are divided into three sections: (1) primary financial records, ca. 1941-78, (2) secondary financial records, ca. 1950-75, (3) records relating to George Orick, Smith's agent, 1959-60. The primary records include receipts for photographic and medical expenses, bank statements and canceled checks, records of his income from teaching, lecturing, and various photographic activities. The secondary records are unsorted receipts and bills for goods and services, including utilities, are supplies, books, records, food and liquor, hardware, and airline tickets. The records relating to George Orick are a combination of Smith's and Orick's files for the period that Orick was Smith's Agent.

Series 9, Artwork and Sketchbooks, includes sketchpads, drawings, and paintings by Smith.

Series 10, Artifacts, Awards, and Memorabilia, includes certificates, medals, and awards. There are also several personal effects of Smith's, including glasses, keys, dentures, a watch, lighters, tobacco pipes, a half smoked cigarette, a pocket knife, and other materials. There is also a typewriter, rubber stamp collection, Japanese vases and dolls, a telephone, suitcase, furniture, and trunks.

Series 11, Audiovisual Materials, undated, 1937-1971, includes music files, audio equipment files, audiotapes and sound recordings, and moving image materials.

Series 12, Photographic Materials, 1938-1978, includes negatives and transparencies which includes Smith's LIFE assignments, early work for other publications, early work by Smith and Nettie L. Smith, specific assignment work such as Pittsburgh, Hitachi, and Minamata, and miscellaneous negatives and transparencies. There are also contact prints, work prints, 35mm slides, photographic equipment and equipment files.


  • Majority of material found within 1910 - 1978


Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement.

Biographical Note

William Eugene Smith was born in 1918 in Wichita, Kansas. He took his first photographs at the age of 15 for two local newspapers. In 1936 Smith entered Notre Dame University in Wichita, where a special photographic scholarship was created for him. A year later he left the university and went to New York City, and after studying with Helene Sanders at the New York Institute of Photography, in 1937 he began working for News-Week (later Newsweek). He was fired for refusing to use medium-format cameras and joined the Black Star agency as a freelance.

Smith worked as a war correspondent for Flying magazine (1943-44), and a year later for Life. He followed the island-hopping American offensive against Japan, and suffered severe injuries while simulating battle conditions for Parade, which required him to undergo surgery for the next two years.

Once recuperated, Eugene Smith worked for Life again between 1947 and 1955, before resigning in order to join Magnum as an associate. In 1957 he became a full member of Magnum. Smith was fanatically dedicated to his mission as a photographer. Because of this dedication, he was often regarded by editors as 'troublesome'.

A year after moving to Tucson to teach at the University of Arizona, Smith died of a stroke.


300 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Papers, audio visual materials, and photographic materials, 1910 1978, of W. Eugene Smith (1918 1978), photojournalist. The bulk of the collection consists of his photographic essay project files, activity files, correspondence, writings, and exhibitions from 1935 1978. The papers document his work as a staff photographer for Life, Black Star Publishing Company, Magnum, and other agencies; his extensive free lance projects, his writings and project materials including layouts and revisions of his innovative photographic essays; his exhibitions; and his educational activities. The collection also reveals his interest in music, literature, and painting. The photographic materials include photographs, negatives, and transparencies from throughout his career. This collection also includes photographic materials from the career of Smith's mother, Nettie Lee Smith (ca.1890 1955). (ca. 300 linear feet)


Series 1: Correspondence

Series 2: Biographical Materials

Series 3: Photographic Essay Project Files

Series 4: Activity Files

Series 5: Writings and Interviews

Series 6: Exhibition Files

Series 7: Publications and Printed Materials

Series 8: Financial Records

Series 9: Artwork and Sketchbooks

Series 10: Artifacts, Awards and Memorabilia

Series 11: Audiovisual Materials

Series 12: Photographic Materials

Custodial History

Materials were donated to the Center for Creative Photography by the artist in 1978.

Music Recordings

When the archive arrived at the Center, the section of boxed records and tapes measured approximately 4' x 8' x 20'. Smith's extensive record collection of jazz, pop, folk, and classical music was taken over by the Music Library of the University of Arizona for cataloging and preservation.

Cameras, Equipment and Memorabilia

Some of the cameras and darkroom equipment in Smith's possession at the time of his death are in the Center's collection and in the W. Eugene Smith Darkroom in the Art Department of the University of Arizona. Throughout his career, Smith was constantly replacing his cameras as they wore out, were stolen, or as he had to pawn them to raise money. For this reason, it is difficult to determine when Smith first used a particular camera or to tell when any of the cameras now at the Center were used.


The Center has four videotapes about Smith that can be viewed by researchers. They are stored with the rest of the Center's videotape collection.

CAC:79:022 Interview with Casey Allen, March 26, 1976

CAC:78:026 W. Eugene Smith's death reported on CBS Channel 13 and ABC Channel 9 television.

CAC:79:025 Aileen Sprague Smith interviewed by William S. Johnson, ca. 1978

CAC:81:007 W. Eugene Smith in The Family of Man exhibition (CBS production), ca. 1955

Nettie Lee Smith Photographic Materials

W. Eugene Smith learned photography from his mother, Nettie Lee Smith. She was an amateur photographer who made family snapshots and photographs of dogs, flowers, and babies, but how also strongly encouraged her son to excel at other kinds of photography. After W. Eugene Smith moved to New York City in 1937, Nettie joined him there, and they began working together on free-lance jobs and on assignments for Black Star. Negatives produced by the Smith during this period are difficult to attribute since both Gene and his mother were doing the same king of work. Sometimes they were working together at the same event and the negatives sleeves from that day bear both their names. Nettie and Gene both occasionally used the pseudonym "Wes Foree" on photographs, further complicating authorship. Nettie exhibited her photographs under her own name at the Camera Club of New York in April 1946 alongside Gene's wartime photographs. In the early 1950s she returned to Kansas where she continued making photographs until her death in 1955. Nettie Smith's negatives, photographs, contact sheets, and color slides are organized and available to researchers as part of the W. Eugene Smith Archive.

Photographic Collection, by Others

The archive contains 308 prints made by other photographers which were collected by Smith during his lifetime. A list of these photographers is available.

Processing Information

Collection processed by William S. Johnson, Charles Lamb, and Amy Stark. Completed in 1983. Published in Guide No. 9.

Reprocessing activities started in 2019 by Lenox Wiese.

Finding aid for the W. Eugene Smith archive
Under Revision
Finding aid updated by Lenox Wiese and entered by Alexis Peregoy
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States