Exercise – a comparison

We are asked to compare W Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’ with Briony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’. I have described each series in my past two blog postings, so this posting can be relatively short.

I believe there are two distinctions to be made: the difference between a photo-story and a photo-essay, and the difference between and insider and outsider view.

Both a photo-essay and a photo-story are what David Hurn (quoted in course notes p52) describes as ‘a group of images in which each picture is supporting and strengthening all the others’. The difference seems to be that a story has a distinct narrative flow but an essay is more free-form, but I suspect that the best projects have elements of both. The Dad Project is primarily a story (charting the progress of Dad’s illness, decline and death) but with non-linear elements. Country Doctor is primarily an essay but has four mini-stories embedded in it.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau (1994) discusses the difference between documentary shot by an outsider (more objective but less ‘involved’) and an insider (probably more detailed knowledge, but a more subjective approach). Campbell was pretty much the ultimate ‘insider’ to the extent that she was, herself, part of the story she is telling. Smith was mostly an outsider; his essay appears more objective – although he clearly has an admiration for his subject.

The other difference between the two series is their historical context. Country Doctor appeared in the late 1940s, shortly after the Second World War and with the Depression well within living memory. Many of his readers will have lived through hardship and approached it with the kind of stoicism and sense of duty projected by Dr Ceriani. The Dad Project is very much a product of the early 21st century, when it is OK to be open about emotions in public.


Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Cosgrove, B. (2012). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994). Inside Out. [online] Available at: http://www.photopedagogy.com/uploads/5/0/0/9/50097419/week_5_abigail_solomon-godeau_inside_out.pdf [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Briony Campbell – The Dad Project

A man lies on a bed, apparently asleep, in a light-coloured room with open curtains. He wears indoor clothes (rather than pyjamas) and is above the bedclothes, so  we understand that this is a daytime nap. His face is gaunt and his mouth suggests a background of pain. He lies with his head near the left of the frame. At the right of the frame, and partially out of it, a young woman sits at a table eating a meal. She has a worried expression and her eyes are fixed on the camera. Details of the furniture, and the vase of flowers on the bedside cabinet, suggest an institutional (hospital or hospice, rather than a home situation.

These are psychologist and family therapist David Campbell and his daughter, the photographer Briony Campbell. The image is from their collaborative series ‘The Dad Project’, detailing the last six months of David’s life and the period immediately after his death from cancer. Images and captions may found at Campbell (n.d). Briony’s account of making the series and its later exhibitions and other manifestations are available as a PDF (Campbell 2011) and as a video with contributions from David (Campbell 2010). The video includes stills from the series that are not on the website.

It is difficult to be dispassionate in reviewing this project (the deaths of my own parents are recent enough to empathise) so I am not going to try. This is a photo-story about love, sorrow, departure and family. David and Briony are each using it to understand the other and to come to terms with the coming separation by death.

There is a variety of images. As expected, we see David and other family members, some happy times and some pain; there is even a photograph with the paramedic on what we take to be his final ambulance journey to the hospital. Briony turns the camera on herself; we see tears, and we have the image described above in which she finishes his hospital meal. There is also a set of detail pictures, unremarkable in themselves but powerful when taken in context; the empty milk bottle, the drinking glass and straw and the hospital menu with ‘Welcome back to Keats Ward, David’ written on it.

The photography is light-coloured and light in tone, but tells the human story.

The project has been seen in various forms; exhibitions, magazine articles, the video noted above, and as the inspiration for many third-party websites.

The phrase ‘an ending without an ending’ is a reference to David’s death but also to the continuing influence of ‘TheDad Project’ as an inspiration and comfort to viewers, and as a way of keeping David Campbell alive in memory at least.


Blackwell, J. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Joblackwell.co.uk. Available at: http://joblackwell.co.uk/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (n.d.). The Dad Project. [online] Brionycampbell.com. Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (2010). Saying goodbye with my camera. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/12600297 [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

Campbell, B. (2011). The Dad Project. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf [Accessed 10 Apr. 2017].

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] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2017].

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