Exercise 1: The Dad Project

Comparing the ‘The Dad Project’ with ‘Country Doctor’ my first reaction is to the striking drama presented by W.Eugene Smith in his series following the titular Dr. Ceriani. Possibly this is due to the inherent differences between black and white and colour presentations but I also feel that the types of events captured, the framing of the subjects with the frequent use of close ups and tilted frames adds to this effect. Every image seems to focus on recording an occurrence, mainly the Doctor at work r occasionally the weather and circumstances he endures during his work and the aftermath of his procedures. The viewer is always on edge with tension and wonderment at the circumstances. There is a definite feel of reverence for Dr. Ceriani and the work he has undertaken, eschewing the draw of city life instead taking up the role of the only physician for 400 square miles in Colorado. The overall series reminds me so much of other works of Americana were the hero can save the day, there’s a sense of glamour and film noir in the use of light and below the eye framing, one image of the treatment of a patient in the back seat of a car instantly makes me think of Hollywood films of the time which regularly contained scenes of the protagonist driving against a projected background, the framing of the image and the use of lighting to balance the exposure and capture the winding road in the background seems so familiar to this.

In the backseat of a car, Dr. Ceriani administers a shot of morphine to a 60-year-old tourist from Chicago, seen here with her grandson, who was suffering from a mild heart disturbance.

Where Smith’s series has the drama of Hollywood, I find Bryony Campbell captures the intimacy of her relationship with her father, the Dad of ‘The Dad Project’. The images we see her are much more mundane. Not that they lack feeling but that it is presented with much less of pomp and circumstance of stark lighting and framing. The images are generally tightly framed with a wide aperture creating a much softer depth of field akin to how your eye works in close relation to objects or subjects, this helps draw the viewer to become ‘closer’ to the subject. Where Smith documents and dramatises each event captured, Campbell’s images are more matter of fact, its almost as if you are sat there seeing this frame or by the use of disembodied arms part of the frame, again helping engage the viewer in the act of supporting and caring for her Father as opposed to being an external observer who is to refer the sacrifices of Dr. Cerieni. Often Campbell’s images contain little more than hints of their purpose such as the image of her father’s hands which are barely in shot but with the contrast of the pale skin against white sheets it is clear the that her father has died at this point, we don’t need more information to understand that.

‘Hasn’t he got beautiful hands… I always loved his hands’. Mum didn’t seemed perturbed by his yellowing skin. When he finally stopped struggling for breath he looked peaceful but very dead to me. Mum said ‘doesn’t he look beautiful… he looks beautiful to me’

Overall I feel the main differences between the two works can be summarised simply as the difference between an external observer documenting what they see and an internal observer documenting how they feel.

Campbell’s work seems much more about the little details that are important to her and her knowledge and understanding of not only her father but also his relationship with others. Where as Smith is obviously a man on assignment, directed to capture the story of the Dr. Ceriani and in doing so has a desire to create engaging and dramatic images that will work for Life Magazine and their goal of driving readership and sales. Through Campbell’s work I feel I have a small amount of understanding of the man her father was but also of who she is, with Smith’s series I feel I understand what dr. Ceriani achieves but not as much about his motivations or life beyond the Doctor’s Bag.

‘an ending without an ending’

Campbell writes at the end of her piece about ‘moving on’ and how she was questioned about whether the recognition of her work stopped her from moving on from her fathers passing. In which she states “I had no desire to ‘move on’”. I believe this impart of what she means by ‘an ending without an ending’.

Her work quickly became recognised distributed and discussed throughout several exhibitions and publications including news media and art book form. I imagine very much that the continued effort she put into re-editing, re-formatting and redeveloping the series for different outlets and media formats was very much. process of re-living the experience over and over again. She mentions about how this mean she could speak so ineffectually about the subject having done so, so frequently.

I also believe that the photograph can also be a keepsake for many, a slice of time captured for us to connect with over and over. The single frame able to reignite our feeling and emotions surrounding a distant memory resurfacing it and helping us re-live that moment.

But, I also believe she is referring to death itself. Her final night with her father he says, ‘Think about what we should shoot tomorrow for the project’. That evening he died. An ending. But, in his passing he presented new opportunities for photography. His ending was still not the ending of the project, the project was not the ending of the project as it went on to be presented a discussed. Even now in this University course there is now ending as we all re-live and experience ‘the ending’. In a way its an allegory for life, the end for an individual is not the end for everyone or everything.


The Dad Project – Briony Campbell | Photography & Film (s.d.) At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/ (Accessed 26/05/2020).The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf (s.d.) (s.l.). At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf (Accessed 26/05/2020).W. Eugene Smith’s ‘Country Doctor’: Revisiting a Landmark Photo Essay (2012) At: https://www.life.com/history/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ (Accessed 26/05/2020).

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