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Tomoko is Bathed by Her Mother (Tomoko in Her Bath), Minamata, Japan


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Details
Title

Tomoko is Bathed by Her Mother (Tomoko in Her Bath), Minamata, Japan

Artist

W. Eugene Smith (American, 1918-1978)

Date

1972

Medium

gelatin silver print

Dimensions (H x W x D)

image: 11 9/16 in x 18 3/8 in; sheet: 15 1/4 in x 19 7/8 in

Collection Area

Photography

Category

Photographs

Object Type

photograph

Culture

American

Credit Line

Gift of Alfred H. and Nancy de C. Corbett

Accession Number

88.47.1

Copyright

© artist or other rights holder

Terms

gelatin silver prints

photographs

Description

Tomoko Is Bathed by Her Mother is an iconic documentary photograph as well an example of the ways in which the human body—or an image of the human body—can become a site of controversy. In this photograph by renowned Life magazine photo-essayist W. Eugene Smith, Yoshiko Uemura gently bathes her sixteen-year-old daughter, Tomoko. Born in Minamata, Japan, Tomoko was one of thousands in the region who were severely disabled by industrial pollution. Tomoko Is Bathed by Her Mother, reminiscent of popular Renaissance-era Pietà compositions, quickly became an international symbol of the consequences of unregulated industry and toxic waste.

To the frustration of her parents, the photograph repeatedly appeared in publications and was shown in museums even after Tomoko died in 1977. In a highly unusual gesture, Smith's former wife Aileen Mioko Smith turned over the rights to the image to Tomoko's parents in 1998 so that it would no longer appear in publications. In addition, she requested that museums or private collectors reconsider placing the photograph on display.

Numerous museums have struggled with this directive, weighing the intentions of a socially concerned photographer who used photography to affect meaningful change against the wishes of the subject’s grieving family. This print of Tomoko Is Bathed by Her Mother entered the Museum’s permanent collection in 1988, ten years before Aileen Smith's request, and went on display briefly in 2005. It has been installed here after careful consideration, so that visitors may study it as part of a larger discussion of the body as nuanced photographic subject, political message bearer, and object of philosophical debate.

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