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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Thursday, October 11, 2012

    W. Eugene Smith’s “Spanish Wake”

    Guest blogger Kendyll Gross was a 2012 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies at Smith College. She also served as the 2012 Brown SIAMS Fellow with a month-long internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    W. Eugene Smith. American, 1918-1978. Spanish Wake,1951. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:28-6.

    After choosing to concentrate on photojournalism, a young W. Eugene Smith remarked, “My station in life is to capture the action of life; the life of the world, its humor, its tragedy. In other words, life as it is. A true picture, unposed and real.” Humanism and social responsibility are strong themes found within Smith’s body of work. He often lived among his subjects for weeks, completely immersing himself within their everyday life. Smith passionately committed himself to capturing intimate scenes that revealed the essence of his subjects and hoped that his images would help to stir the emotions and conscience of his viewer.

    The "Spanish Village" series concluded a European trip that had begun in Great Britain. On May 2, 1950, Smith crossed the Spanish border with an assistant and an interpreter. Lifewanted Smith to report on problems with the food supply in Franco’s Spain. However, Smith was determined to do something with a much more political angle; the timing of the photo-story coincided with the United States’ discussion of allying themselves with Spain although the country was under fascist rule. Smith wanted to highlight the poverty and fear within Spain brought on by Francisco Franco. It took him two months of wandering all over Spain to find the village of Deleitosa, a rural town suffering from severe economic difficulties caused by the burdens of the Franco regime. An article by Gomez de la Serna in the daily paper ABCconvinced him that this was where he should look for the reality of life in Spain.

    The dramatic lighting in Spanish Wakecomplements the somber subject matter. The photograph shows an elderly man upon his deathbed surrounded by six women covered in veils and headscarves. Among these women are his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. In Spanish Wake,Smith makes compelling use of what is called chiaroscurolighting, which dates back to Renaissance paintings. It pertains to depicting stark contrasts between light and shadow to emphasize space and depth as well as a sense of drama. The scene’s intense lighting creates a dominant mood of mourning and sadness. The deceased man’s face seems to radiate its own glow among the darkness, creating a halo effect while the distressed, pale faces of the women are clear and poignant among the setting’s shadows. The expressive contrast between light and dark intensifies the already tragic scene and immediately pulls the viewer into the emotional turmoil of the photograph.

    Detail of Spanish Wake.

    Although Smith sought to create “a true picture, unposed and real,” he was known to manipulate the negatives of his images. Two of the women from Spanish Wake,the wife (see detail above) and the daughter, were looking almost directly at Smith when he took the image, but Smith solved this problem in the final print. He printed their eyes almost totally black then with a fine-tipped brush applied bleach to create new whites. The result was to redirect the pupils of the two women’s eyes downward and to the side. Had Smith decided to leave the photograph as it was, the mood of the image would have changed drastically. This manipulation of the women’s eyes makes the scene more accessible as it appears the viewer is peering into an undisturbed and confidential moment. While Spanish Wakeitself may not be completely honest, it channels Smith’s desire for uninhibited photography that captures the emotional reality of a situation.


    Ely Pineiro - 19/02/2013

    More information

    i would love to know in which newspaper/magazine was published this photo for the first time?

    Thanks a lot!

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  • Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Maximón Militar

    Daniel Chauche. French-American, born 1951. Maximón Militar,Sololáfrom La Santeria Chapina.Negative 1989; printed 2011. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. SC 2012:19-9. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    The Maximón is obviously a complex product of the mixture, at several levels and at various times, of Maya and Roman Catholic ritual and beliefs.– Michael Mendelson, Maximón: An Iconographical Introduction(1959)

    Guatemalan saints, beatos(blessed people) and deities usually represent holiness, innocence and purity of heart, yet the enigmatic Maximón, with his taste for alcohol and tobacco, is an unorthodox figure among Guatemalan congregations. Despite his unsavory character, Guatemalans’ worship of Maximón increased after 1880, especially in the highlands.

    This folk saint has been venerated in a range of forms and dressed in different costumes for public rituals, especially during Holy Week, by Ladinos (people with indigenous and Spanish heritage) and indigenous people. In Chauche’s photograph, however, Maximón is wearing a military uniform and newly polished combat boots. He is holding an elongated object which appears to be a rifle and a rustic tray, which contains his favorite offerings: agua ardiente(alcohol), soda and cigarettes. Chauche only reveals the lower half of Maximón’s body. It is here where Maximón Militar – a deity, a doll, a figure, a religious hybrid – not only embraces two different religious worlds, the Maya and the Spanish, but goes a step further into a new ritual, war.

    Daniel Chauche, while avoiding capturing the face of Maximón, finds a way to depict the shame and fear of the Guatemalan people and perhaps, as long term resident, his own, as well as the consequences of a long civil war that plagued the country.

    Guatemala, like the majority of the countries in Latin America, gained its independence from Spain in the 1820s yet, at least for the Guatemalans, independence from European tyranny did not assure economic prosperity or peace among its people. Moreover, after independence, Guatemala had been a victim of authoritarian governments, harmful foreign interventions, and an unprecedented military coup in 1954. The coup not only established the modus operandi of foreign and domestic policy aimed at any political party that sympathized with communist or socialist ideals, but it also destabilized the country and unleashed one of the bloodiest civil wars in Latin America lasting nearly forty years.

    Daniel Chauche took Maximón Militarin 1989 during the civil war in Guatemala, seven years before the peace accord between the government and rebel groups was signed. The sense of shame and fear is clear, however, questions still are unanswered. What was the real reason why Chauche omitted the upper body of Maximón? Or is perhaps the man/figure wearing the military uniform and the shiny boots not Maximón at all but is instead a member of the military force and the Maximón is depicted only by the two pictures of San Simón/Maximón placed at the feet of the military figure?


    Karla Giorgio - 31/05/2013


    I just ran across this entry today. As to the question of why not the face, two reasons, the doll like face does not emanate the menace implied in the rest of the image and concentrating on the objects around the shrine was very important, so once I backed up enough to take the whole figure these objects became too small. I do have an image of the whole figure but it is not nearly as cool as this image. I do think it very important that people think about why a photographer makes the operational choices he (she) does.

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  • Friday, September 28, 2012

    Announcing the 2012-2013 Student Picks Winners!

    It’s that time of year again! Here in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, we have been gearing up for the 2012-2013 Student Picks program for the last month. In case you aren’t familiar with Student Picks, this unique program offers seven Smith students per year the opportunity to organize their own one day art show using SCMA’s collection of 16,000 works on paper! It’s always amazing for us to see what students choose to show to their fellow students, friends, family, and professors.

    SCMA Director Jessica Nicoll drawing names

    For the month of September, students could enter the Student Picks lottery at ballot boxes around campus. This year, we received a whopping 629 ballots! From those entries, SCMA Director Jessica Nicoll drew the names of seven winners and two alternates. This year’s student curators are:

    Nov. 2, 2012 - Leah Santorine '13

    Dec. 7, 2012 - Camille Kulig '13

    Feb. 1, 2013 - Yvonne Ho '16

    Mar. 1, 2013 - Sharon Pamela Santana '14

    April 5, 2013 - Suzu Sakai '16

    April 26, 2013 - Amanda Garcia '16

    Oct. 4, 2013 - Mina Zahin '15

    Congratulations to this year’s Student Picks curators! The shows occur on the first Friday of every month from 12 – 4PM in the Cunningham Center. Student Picks shows are one of the few chances in which we can welcome visitors to view our collection of prints, drawings, and photographs without an appointment, so we hope you will stay tuned and come by!

    The winning ballots!

    The Most Creative Ballot Award goes to Jean Eisenman '14, whose name was drawn as an alternate, for including this lovely portrait on the back of her ballot entry.

    Speaking of approaching Student Picks exhibitions, Laila Phillips ’15 is the student curator for October. Her show, “In Felinity: The Domestic Cat as a Subject, Symbol, and Character” will be on view on Friday, October 5, from 12 – 4PM in the Cunningham Center. Laila has chosen some wonderful works by artists including Francisco Goya, Sandy Skoglund, Philippe Halsman, Richard Billingham, and others. We hope you will join us! For information, visit the event Facebook page.