W. Eugene Smith and James Nachtwey are known for making some of the most powerful photographs in the history of journalism. Born 30 years apart, each pushed the boundaries of their profession in substantial ways that reflect different eras of magazine publishing: Smith the heyday of printed picture magazines, and Nachtwey the burgeoning digital era. The mission for both Smith (1918–1978) and Nachtwey (born 1948): to bear witness.
This exhibition focuses on the two photographers' documentations of medical practices. The MFAH collection images from Smith’s 1948 Country Doctor series—featuring the private practice of Dr. Ernest Ceriani in Kremmling, Colorado (population 1,000)—comprise a nearly complete version of the photographic essay as it was originally published in Life magazine. The major Nachtwey work in this exhibition is The Sacrifice, a mural of 60 photographs shot in military operating rooms in Iraq between 2006 and 2007. The images are digitally printed on a 30-foot seamless sheet, and the relentless views of life-saving surgery in modern military hospitals are a dramatic contrast to Dr. Ceriani’s modest facilities. On an adjoining wall in the gallery, photographs from Nachtwey’s series Father Mike depict an American priest working with terminally ill AIDS patients in Thailand.
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.