The Walk to Paradise Garden

Recent events brought to mind a photograph by W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), one of the greatest photojournalists of all time.  Forgetful of personal risk, Smith wedded “news” photographs to a powerful aesthetic sensibility, creating a body of unforgettable work.

Smith was an idealist.  During WWII, he aimed for nothing less than showing the horrors of war so vividly that people would recoil from the prospect in the future.  As a Life Magazine photographer, he landed with marines during 13 Pacific island invasions, including the battles of Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

His almost legendary luck deserted him on Okinawa, when he was hit in the face and hand by mortar fragments.  “I forgot to duck but I got a wonderful shot of those who did,” he said.  “My policy of standing up when the others are down finally caught up with me.”  

Two years and 30 operations later he was still not sure he’d be able to use a camera again.  “The day I again tried for the first time to make a photograph I could barely load the roll of film into the camera. Yet I was determined that the first photograph would be a contrast to the war photographs and that it would speak an affirmation of life.”  

He followed his children as they went for a walk.  Fighting pain in his spine and hand, he took a single picture he called, “The Walk to Paradise Garden.”

The Walk to Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith

“The Walk to Paradise Garden” by W. Eugene Smith

The photo achieved world-wide fame when Edward Steichen chose it as the final image in his “Family of Man” exhibit in 1955.  Smith later wrote, “While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees…I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through…I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

I think as 2012 draws to a close, we all are in need of “sonnets to life and to the courage to go on living it.”  Smith’s photograph is the one that I am thinking of at this time.

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8 Responses to The Walk to Paradise Garden

  1. Sarah says:

    How lovely! I have a copy of this print as I’m sure many people do, but I had no knowledge of the story behind it. Thank you! Happy New Year!

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    • I first heard the story a long time ago, in a History of Photography class taught by a prof who really admired Smith’s work. I thought Paradise Garden had been used as a Life Magazine cover, but I guess not. There are some very nice copies of his work online.

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    • Patricia Ann says:

      Where did you find a copy of The Walk to Paradise Gsrden?

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  2. Rosi says:

    Great story to go with this wonderful photo. And thanks for the reminder of Family of Man. I have that book around here somewhere and haven’t looked at it in a long time. I should get it out. It’s very affirming. Thanks for another thoughtful post. I wish you and Mary a happy and prosperous new year.

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    • We also have the Family of Man book “around here somewhere.” It was one of those posts that started out in one direction and meandered to another that was better. Happy New Year to you and your family too!

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  3. Patricia Ann says:

    I did Goggle search and I found no place that listed the print for sale.

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