Tomoko Uemura In Her Bath - Center for Civic Reflection


W. Eugene Smith is best known for his iconic cultural portraits portrayed as extensive photo-essays. One of his last great exposés was that of mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan. Smith and his wife lived in Minamata from 1971-1973 and documented the disease extensively. After a severe beating by employees from the Chisso chemical factory, Smith published one of his most famous works: Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, 1971. We are thrilled to have acquired this piece and are proud to have it in the Saxton collection.

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

One of the most moving images of the photo series in Minamata that Smith took is the photograph entitled “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath.” This image originally appeared in a Life magazine issue and has many notable features to it. From a visual point of view, it is very important to note the use of lighting in the photograph. The majority of the photograph is very dark except for the subjects (the mother bathing her deformed daughter). This helps to draw the eye almost exclusively to the subjects, as there is not much to notice in the form of a background. This technique also helps to give the feeling of the darkness and despair that the people of Minamata must have felt about their current affairs in response to the actions of the Chisso Corporation. The photograph encapsulates the feeling of being in a situation with no real hope for change. Another physical aspect that this photograph uses is its physical size. The photo covers the entire two-page spread of the magazine that it appears in. This makes it so that no person looking through the magazine could possibly miss the picture by glancing through it. Additionally, the large size of the photograph helps to show the smaller details that could be missed if it had been resized to a half page or even full page size. The larger size allows the viewer to really focus in on the physical characteristics of the subjects of the photograph. One can see the emotion of the mother bathing her daughter as well as the vacant stare of the daughter and the physical deformation that she has suffered as a result of the mercury poisoning. By being as large as the photograph is, the emotions of this picture can be fully appreciated by the audience (Smith).

Eugene Smith’s “Tomoko Uemura In Her Bath”

Tomoko Uemura In Her Bath To fully appreciate the images that Eugene Smith presented to the world, in particular Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, it is important to know whom Eugene Smith, the man, was. Eugene Smith was a U.S. photojournalist that, by the time the Minamata images were taken, was a well-traveled and versed man. He has covered World War II as a correspondent for Life magazine in the Allie’s Pacific Theatre. He also gained notability for his work with the people of a Spanish community where the village’s soil had been exhausted yet the villagers continued to struggle on and live their lives. He famously stated about his photography:

Tomoko Uemura in her Bath | The Art Institute of Chicago

Eugene Smith’s photographs were some of the most important images of those that suffered from Minamata disease. The image entitled: “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath” is of particular significance in his photo series. This powerful image shows the plight of the people in Minamata as they struggle to deal with the lasting effects of the overdose of mercury that the population was exposed to because of the Chisso Corporation. The image itself serves as a beacon for which those affected by the disease and those concerned about the implications of what lead to the disease can rally behind. Smith’s photographs, as well as his book, helped to shed the public limelight on this situation. Capturing the raw, physical emotion of his subjects, Smith presented the world with a powerful image of hope, despair, love, and suffering all at once. The moving image that he took shocked the world and played a serious factor in the advancement of the people of Minamata’s case against both the government and the Chisso Corporation. Smith paid the physical toll for his work, as the photographs nearly cost the photographer his most treasured sense: his sight. The lasting effects of this photograph are to serve as a reminder to the delicate power that must be balanced by humanity. The continuing development of urbanization must be controlled so that the public does not suffer in the name of progress.

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath by Taryana Ashrooni on Prezi