This exercise examines linear or chronological storytelling from an insider’s point of view. The exercise requires the examination of two photo essays, made sixty years apart. The photo essays in question are; Country Doctor by Eugene Smith, which appeared in Life Magazine in 1948, documenting the life of general practitioner Dr. Ernest Ceriani from Colorado over 23 days, and The Dad Project by Briony Campbell, which documents her father’s death from cancer in 2009.
How does Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project compare with Country Doctor ?
Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor gives a fascinating insight into the day to day life of Dr. Ernest Ceriani as he treats the medical needs of the town of Kremmling, Colorado over a three week period. Smith’s series of images portray a general practitioner and indeed wider community that has accepted the photographer’s presence. It is a real fly on the wall (insider) documentary of life, death and everything in between of the small town. Comparing Smith’s series to that of Campbell’s The Dad Project, other than the obvious differences such as the style and physical appearance, the greatest difference is in the narrative itself. Campbell puts herself within the frame, and so the story becomes more intimate and is as much about her as it is about her father. The story is really about the collaborative relationship between Briony Campbell and her father as they accept and cope with his impending death. By allowing herself to become part of the story, Campbell’s series comes close to what Abigail Solomon-Godeau described as ‘confessional mode’. Solomon-Godeau regards Nan Goldin’s series, Ballad of Sexual Dependency, as the perfect example of the insider position, as Goldin, similar to Campbell, has a deep personal relationship to the subject matter, and at times is the subject. For me this begs the question, if The Dad Project is a perfect example of the insider position, where does this place Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor? inside, outside or somewhere in between?
What do you think Briony Campbell means by ‘an ending without an ending’?
‘This is a story of an ending without an ending. It’s a relationship I’m still exploring. This is my attempt to say goodbye to my dad with the help of my camera’. Campbell clarifies the above statement towards the end of her 2011 essay, when she states that, ‘I am so grateful to my dad and for giving me a way to keep moving forward with him, and to photography for making it possible’. Campbell is saying that her relationship with her father during their collaboration on the project is immortalized by the very act of using the camera to record the project. As more and more people view the project and make contact with Campbell, each telling their own story of loss and acceptance, the more the collaborative relationship between her and her father transcends mortality. When asked by a reporter if she felt the project was stopping her from moving on? Campbell replied, ‘I didn’t find it hard to get on with my normal day at all, as my dad and the project were very much a part of my normal day.’
Campbell, B (2009) Briony Campbell ‘The Dad Project’ [online] Available: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/?overview [Accessed 21 Mar 15]
Campbell, B. (2011) The Dad Project PDF [online] Available: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf [Accessed 21 Mar 15]
La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press
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 21 Mar 15]
Solomon-Godeau, A. (1991) Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.