While W. Eugene Smith is remembered as a non-conventional photojournalist and one of the greatest war correspondents of the past century. However, aside from his brutally vivid World War II snaps, Smith also took a beautiful and heartwarming photograph of his children walking hand in hand in 1946. Find out more about this influential photograph after the jump!
William Eugene Smith may be best known for a number of striking and brutal war photographs he took as a correspondent for publications like LIFE and Flying magazine, but the American photojournalist has also been lauded for some of his works taken outside the bloody battle fields. Among them is the charming and touching photograph called “The Walk to Paradise Garden” which shows his two children heading towards a clearing in the woods as they held hands.
In 1945, Smith was badly wounded while taking photos of battle conditions in Okinawa, Japan for an essay entitled “A Day in the Life of a Front Line Soldier.” He couldn’t pick up a camera until a year later, and would spend another year recovering before he began working again for LIFE.
One day in May 1946, while walking through the woods with his two young children, Pat and Juanita, Smith tried to take a picture again. “The day I tried again 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,” Smith said on trying to get back to photography, as reported in LIFE’s The Classic Collection.
In a collection of essays entitled Art and Artist, Smith tells the story of the scene unfolding before him on that fateful day in the woods with his children:
“While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees – how they were delighted at every little discovery! – and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it….
“Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. I dropped a little farther behind the engrossed children, then stopped. Painfully I struggled — almost into panic — with the mechanical iniquities of the camera….
“I tried to, and ignore the sudden violence of pain that real effort shot again and again through my hand, up my hand, and into my spine … swallowing, sucking, gagging, trying to pull the ugly tasting serum inside, into my mouth and throat, and away from dripping down on the camera….
“I knew the photograph, though not perfect, and however unimportant to the world, had been held…. I was aware that mentally, spiritually, even physically, I had taken a first good stride away from those past two wasted and stifled years.”
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.