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].