Smith’s Country Doctor

A man carrying a leather bag walks through long grass. There are flowers at the left and an unpainted picket fence at the right of the image; we understand that he is visiting a house in a rural (possibly remote) area. He is wearing a jacket, tie and hat and appears professional, but used to making visits rather than working in an office. The bag suggests (and the essay title confirms) that he is a doctor. He is frowning, eyes slightly downcast and appears tired. The sky forming the background is stormy, reflected in the rather heavy overall tones of the image.

This is the opening image of W. Eugene Smith’s classic 1948 photo essay for Life magazine which ran over 11 pages of the magazine, arranged as a title page and five double-page spreads. 27 original images (plus 11 that were not published) can be found on the Time website (Cosgrove 2012) but stripped of their original captions and text (the website captions refer to Smith’s involvement). The compound image below (Steinfl 2014) shows the layout and headlines but the text cannot be read.

The essay results from Smith spending 23 days following Dr. Ernest Ceriani, the sole physician in a town of 2000 people in rural Colorado. Ceriani is presented as hard-working, dedicated and caring in the tradition of a professional ‘serving a community’. He is seen at a variety of tasks from routine examinations through to significant surgery (an amputation). We see the very human interactions with his community, particularly his patients and their relatives.

The narrative is well presented. We have a title page introducing Ceriani, with the image described above, followed by a double-page spread showing the range of work that he covers. The next three spreads give us four sub-plots with serious incidents (two accidents, an amputation for gangrene and a death by heart attack), followed by a summary spread and the final image of Ceriani gowned after a 2AM surgery with a cup of coffee and a 2000-yard stare.

The website images are engaging but lacked context so I was pleased to find the overall layout, presented by Steinfl, which demonstrate the importance of editing and page design to present this narrative in a magazine context.


Cosgrove, B. (2012). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Steinfl, A. (2014). Country Doctor, Eugene Smith for Life Magazine. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].


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