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Question: How does Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project compare with Country Doctor?

Both photo essays, ‘The Dad Project’ and ‘Country Doctor’, have in common the medical intervention in people’s lives. The latter could be described as a generalised view while the former focuses on a specific instance. Smith’s essay records the journey from birth (see fig.1.) to old age (see fig.2.) to death (see figs.3, 4 and 5.), while Campbell’s project records her encounter, both as a daughter and photographer, with her father’s terminal illness (see fig. 6).

There is clearly a deeper emotional element in Campbell’s photography than Smith’s but it is worth recalling what W. Eugene Smith wrote ‘at the heyday of his career at ‘Life Magazine’’:

 Up to and including the instant of exposure, the photographer is working in an undeniably subjective way. By his choice of technical approach (which is a tool of emotional control), by his selection of the subject matter to be held within the confines of his negative area, and by his decision as to the exact, climactic instant of exposure, he is blending the variables of interpretation into an emotional whole which will be a basis for the formation of opinions by the viewing public (Soutter, 2013:53).

 Campbell writes movingly of her experiences throughout the project (Campbell, 2011). That she succeeded in ‘blending the variables of interpretation into an emotional whole which will be a basis for the formation of opinions by the viewing public’ (above) is evidenced by the fact that the project provoked ‘overwhelming responses. Today The Dad Project has been seen by tens of thousands of people around the world’ (Campbell, 2011:1). Similarly, Smith’s photo essay, ‘Country Doctor’ photographed over a period of three weeks had an emotional appeal such that:

Six decades later, Smith’s images from those three weeks remain as fresh as they were the moment he took them, and as revelatory as they surely felt to millions of LIFE’s readers as they encountered Dr. Ceriani, his patients … (LIFE, s.d)

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two is that in the case of Smith’s essay the photographer is ‘absent’ from the frame — the viewer does not perceive the photographer behind the pictures, and the photographer wants the viewer only to see the ‘reality’ as presented in the photographs. A deeper reading of the photographs might lead to admiration for the photographer’s skill in ‘capturing the moment’, but the distance between photographer and subject is not questioned or considered, being so obvious. This is not the case with ‘The Dad Project’ where Campbell is both photographer and subject (see fig. 7). The viewer is made aware of the choices she had to make as to what to photograph so that what was said of Smith’s photographs of the country doctor’s life, that they were ‘at-times almost unsettlingly intimate pictures’ (LIFE, s.d), takes on a greater depth of meaning (for example see fig. 8), a depth necessarily absent from the photographs in Smith’s work.

This post continues with Exercise — 2nd Question at: https://cormac513273.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/exercise-2nd-question/

References

Campbell, Bryony (2011) The Dad Project [online] At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf (Accessed on 15.10.14)

LIFE (s.d) W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Photo Essay, ‘Country Doctor’ [online] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#1 (Accessed on: 15.10.14)

Soutter, Lucy (2013) Why art photography? London: Routledge

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Smith, W Eugene (1948) Dr. Ernest Ceriani delivers a baby [Photograph] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#33 (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 2. Smith, W Eugene (1948) Dr. Ceriani checks the blood pressure of 85-year-old Thomas Mitchell [Photograph] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#18 (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 3. Smith, W. Eugene (1948) Dr. Ceriani responds to a late-night call [Photograph] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#21 (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 4. Smith, W. Eugene (1948) Dr. Ceriani calls for a priest [Photograph] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#22 (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 5. Smith, W. Eugene (1948) knowing there’s nothing he can do to save him [Photograph] At: http://life.time.com/history/life-classic-eugene-smiths-country-doctor/#23 (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 6. Campbell, Bryony (2011) The inanity of endless hours in hospital, eroded his spirit. [Photograph] At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/#BrionyCampbell_0218-1000×664.jpg (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 7. Campbell, Bryony (2011) ‘Bug, do you think you’ll grow up to be… [Photograph] At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/#BrionyCampbell_0205-1000×666.jpg (Accessed on 15.10.14)

Figure 8. Campbell, Bryony (2011) Me and Dad 25th August 2009 [Photograph] At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/#BrionyCampbell_0238-1000×666.jpg (Accessed on 15.10.14)

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