Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Robert Gibb: A Paragraph for W. Eugene Smith

“I cannot make it cohere,” Pound lamented in Canto CXVI,

amid his wrecks and errors. “My own effort destroyed 

through my own failure,” mirrored Smith, his “Pittsburgh 

project” a ruins of nearly seventeen-thousand negatives, 

whose images he culled to the merely unmanageable: two-

thousand work prints he’d shuffle through endlessly, trying 

to find the thread in the pattern. Alcohol and amphetamines 

kept him going, and his vision of a city refracted through 

its myriad parts. A dream doomed from the start. In the end 

he was permitted only that residuum of vision shoe-horned 

into the pages of Popular Photography—the eighty-eight prints 

of the essay “Labyrinthian Walk.” To build a city of terraces 

and stairs, populated by the shapes of its light. “To confess 

wrong without losing rightness,” Pound insisted to the end. 

And Smith: “The infinite mistake of Pittsburgh does not take 

from the fact that the set of photographs is among my finest.” 


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Poem copyright 2019 Robert Gibb

Photographs are from Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project.

2 comments on “Robert Gibb: A Paragraph for W. Eugene Smith

  1. Vox Populi
    March 12, 2020

    Thanks, Emily. Although I didn’t grow up in this region, so I don’t feel nostalgic for Pittsburgh’s industrial past, I do admire the beauty and drama of Smith’s images. I also love Gibb’s meditations on the images.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily DeFerrari
    March 12, 2020

    I’m mesmerized by the photographs in Dream Street, balancing hell and hope. Not being nostalgic for the hell part of our industrial past, I do though, fantasize that what we may have lost from that time is hidden in Smith’s discarded photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

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