Telling a story – Exercise

  • How does Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project compare with Country Doctor?
  • What do you think she means by ‘an ending without an ending’?

The Dad Project

BrionyCampbell_0205-1000x666

Copyright Bryony Campbell

Bryony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’ is an evocative and moving photo  essay charting the final stages of her fathers life. Tackling the difficult subject of her fathers terminal cancer, the work traces and records her relationship with her father in the final months of his life. The work also echoes the entirety of their relationship. The photographer is as much the subject in and of the work as her father is. There is a visual and written narrative dialogue that runs strongly through the work. The work is also highly reflective and the photographers intent and her emotions about her dying father are to me intertwined.

The work was produced as a photobook with blocks of text that provide real insight into the evolution of the project and the artists reflections and inner debates about how the project would work and its impact on those around. Not least about how the work would attest to a father and daughters relationship. The photographs have an honest beauty about them, capturing poignant moments, grief and sadness but also revealing much about her fathers inner strength in the final stage of his life. There is I believe something very inspiring about this sad and personal narrative.

A feature that stood out to me most was the closeness and love of a father for his daughter, this shines through in the photo’s and video clips. Although clearly very ill, her father demonstrates his love for his daughter through his active engagement in the whole endeavour. There are moving moments in the video clips where her father talks about is worries for his family for the future implying without explicitly saying it, he sees his role as provider for his family ebbing away.

His engagement in the project is perhaps the last way in which he can assist his daughter. For Campbell her camera becomes a third element in the relationship with her father, at times perhaps providing a mechanism through which she mediates her sense of pending loss and a conclusion to the work that is inevitable and inescapable.

There is a bravery that runs through the work demonstrated by both of the subjects and the camera captures moments

Country Doctor

W.Eugene-Smith3

Copyright W. Eugene Smith

Country Doctor was an assignment for Life magazine undertaken by W. Eugene Smith. The work charts the day to day work of Ernest Ceriani, a country doctor covering a large rural area in Colorado in the late 1940’s. Described as ground breaking this is perhaps the classic photo essay, shot on black and white 35mm film (the photographer later resigned from Life rather than shift to using medium format cameras) and to my eye is a protype for many later photo essays. Indeed looking at in detail I was transmitted to my childhood in the 1970s and the wonderful photo essays that were a feature of the Sunday times magazine.

Although intimate in nature and capturing the doctor in many situations, the photographer is an outsider, an observer, trying the record sickens as if not there. To acclimatise the doctor Smith shot for three days without tim in the camera, in part so that the doctor could get used to him being around, in part not wanting to waste valuable and expensive film. Although the work has the doctor in a variety of different situations, some of which views might have though desperate, there is a coherence to the essay that reveals the complex life and work of a country doctor in 1948 rural america.

The work was for an international magazine ‘Life’ and the editor/commissioner had ideas about what they wanted in advance of Eugene Smith’s despatch. Eugene Smith was  something of a maverick and he ignored this direction. The finished work has some associated text but in many respects the story stands in its own right as a purely visual essay.

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

There are similarities and differences in both essays so I have tried to contrast them in the table below:

The Dad Project- Bryony Campbell Country Doctor-W.Eugene Smith
  • Self directed in content and time
  • Personally revealing and brave
  • Interactive, the photographer is as much the subject as her father is.
  • Produced over a period of months
  • Participant observer reportage
  • Augmented with extended text and video interviews. The motivation for the project remains immediate and at the centre of each image
  • The project is finite, there is an unavoidable end
  • Highly evocative, engenders a high degree of empathy for the photographer and her father.
  • Touches a note that all who view will recognise, says something about the human condition
  • The work manages the sense of loss through both the photographers and her fathers viewpoints
  • Colour, multi media /video
  • Digital
  • Book
  • A commissioned assignment
  • A clear end date in terms of the magazine contract
  • Shot over a short time, 23 days
  • The work has an associated fee
  • Editors expectation about the type of image (although W. Eugene Smith ignored this)
  • Although intimate the photographer is an observer, a transient visitor
  • The photographer had to work to gain trust (shot for 3 days without film in the camera to put the doctor at ease and to allow the photographer to blend in)
  • Hiding in plain site, in that the photographer wanted to record scene unaffected by his presence, as if he wasn’t there
  • Pure photojournalism
  • short and succinct text associated with each image, providing some context but less significant than the image itself
  • Black and white
  • Analogue
  • 35mm Film
  • Magazine

Although both are revealing and compelling photo essays I do think they are fundamentally different. This difference hinges on the role of the photographer. Eugene Smith was seeking intimate and revealing images that offered readers of ‘Life’ a very unique insight into the world of Dr. Ceriani, but this was achieved whilst still being an outsider. Campbell’s highly personal record is exceptionally intimate in part because she is as much the subject as is her father. The essay is woven with her thoughts and fears and her viewpoint is that of an insider and to my limited understanding typifies notions of reportage.

What do you think she means by ‘an ending without an ending’?

This is hard to be definitive about but my belief is that the work retains such strong traces of the photographer and her fathers relationships captured in all the media that form the work, photographs, video and text, that they freeze for ever something tangible about their whole lives. The work remains as a touch stone for what they had and indeed what was lost. To this end the work has no end!

References

Campbell, B (2009):  The Dad Project found at: www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf (Accessed June 2016)

Cosgrove , B. (2012) W.Eugene Smith’s landmark Portrait: Country Doctor 1948  Found at: http://www.time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ (Accessed June 2016)

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