Gene Smith’s Sink

In 2007 I wrote a short piece about my long saga researching W. Eugene Smith.  It was published in Brigid Hughes’ wonderful literary journal, A Public Space, and it’s just been put back up on the journal’s website.  You can read it here.  I called it, “Gene Smith’s Sink,” referring to the custom-made stainless steel darkroom sink that I had recently purchased from Smith’s son, Pat, and my own sinking into Smith’s story.

The “Sink” describes a few of the zigs and zags on my journey, which began in January 1997 when I first began reading about W. Eugene Smith.  But I left out a key serendipity.  My wife Laurie Cochenour had lived in Tucson, Arizona, for a few years before we met and two of her closest friends still lived there.  In late 1996 we’d planned a trip to Tucson for the second week in April, 1997 and we booked our plane tickets.  In January, 1997 while sitting in our town house in Raleigh reading Jim Hughes’ excellent biography, W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance, I learned that Smith’s archive was established in Tucson at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona before he died in 1978.  “You aren’t going to believe this,” I told Laurie, “but guess where Smith’s archive is located?”  I spent that week in April digging around in the archive for the first time.

I’ve made more than twenty trips to Tucson since then and it has become like a second home.  Our friends Carol Buuck and Linda, Dane, and Jimmy Armijo have provided complementary lodging on each and every trip, and often Laurie has accompanied me.  There will be more Tucson trips in the future.  The Jazz Loft Project exhibition will be at CCP in late 2011 or 2012, and I will continue to conduct research in the Smith archives while working on my own biography of Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  The working title is Picture Paradise.

- Sam Stephenson

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