Eugene Smith’s Minamata

On social media this morning I saw mention of the making of a film telling the story of Eugene and his wife Aileen Smith who spent over 3 years documenting and raising awareness of the dreadful mercury poisoning of of the waters, and fish, around the town of Minamata in the southern Japanese Island of Kryusha by a local chemical factory owned by the Chisso Corporation.

The poisoning had dreadful consequences for the people of the village, to use the words on the front page of the book, it is the ” The story of the poisoning of a city and of the people who choose to carry the burden of courage”, many died, poisoned by the contaminated fish they thought would cure them, and many children were born with the disease.

The Smiths used photography to raise awareness, and in an attempt to stop him, men from the Chisso union beat Eugene to within an inch of his life, smashing him onto the pavement with so much force it crushed several vertebrae in his body, and he feared he would never hold a camera again.

Eugene died, aged just 59 in 1978, the year I became a professional press photographer, although I did not come across the story of Minamata until a few years ago whilst studying photography for a masters degree, it moved me greatly.

When the film is launched next year in 2020 it will star Johnny Depp and I will be 59, the same age Smith, and my father died, I’ll be trying to not think about that too much. But I will be thinking about the film, the story of Minamata and revisiting concepts of what true photojournalism means and teaches us, if we ever learn.

Details of the film can be seen by clicking here

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