Perhaps the simplest form of narrative is story telling and we begin with the research of the classic photo essay Country Doctor that Eugene Smith (1948) made for LIFE magazine and The Dad Project by Bryony Campbell (2009).
Eugene Smith’s work is a classic story-telling project recording Dr. Ernest Ceriani working in rural Colorado, U.S. The images were an intimate and close up first hand account of the GP visiting and treating his patients. The essay is a descriptive account of the doctor’s work with limited hidden depth and no ambiguity.
The viewer is an audience spectator of cinematic scenes of a fragment of society not ordinarily accessible to the readers of LIFE magazine. The subjects don’t notice or recognise the camera or the outsider who is taking the photographs, which could quite easily pass for stills from a 1940’s black and white Hollywood film. Whilst the compositions are at times quite dramatic they are very straight and literal emphasised by the accompanying text describing the scenes adding only surface level detail and information and not necessarily adding any interpretive value to the viewer.
Certain images were deemed to be unsuitable for the final cut for LIFE magazine such as the baby being treated in an incubator and also the patient’s partly amputated leg. As we learned in part 1 to critically appraise any photographic work requires a thorough understanding the context of the photography and we should therefore take into account the commercial agenda and therefore the editorial control ensuring that only a dramatic yet sanitized representation of real life could be offered up to the American public. The story was of a totally committed professional working against the odds to support a local community of honest hard-working folk and this narrative fitted with LIFE magazine’s promotion and recording of the American way of life.
The Dad Project by Bryony Campbell documents her own father’s battle with cancer and eventual death. In comparison to Eugene Smith Campbell creates a completely different photographic outcome by involving both the viewer and herself in the series. Her subjects look straight into the camera and Campbell is the insider and an active participant and narrator of the story. The whole project and therefore the images are extremely intimate and open in a manner, which forced Campbell to question herself many times.
The context of the project is Bryony Campbell’s MA Photography studies providing more neutral editorial conditions than those experienced by Eugene Smith. In so far as the underlying agenda would be to make a project of quality as oppose to selling magazines.
Campbell uses metaphors and aspects of everyday detail to convey meaning and evoke atmosphere. This combines with some extremely intimate and, at times almost shockingly, raw images to create an extremely powerful project of work.
As a contrast to Eugene Smith’s straight scene images, Bryony Campbell makes more artistic compositions revealing themselves at a slower pace. These poignant images evoke deep feelings and raw emotions and this is made all the more powerful by the interspersing of images of ordinary everyday scenes such as creases in the sheets of her father’s bed amid the sadness and heartache experienced by Bryony Campbell and her family.
Campbell achieved her MA with Distinction but has also received wide professional acclaim and coverage as The Dad Project has gone onto help many other people come to terms with their own similar circumstances. In her final summing up Campbell refers to the project as a story about an ending without an ending. I think this refers to her own view that the images and project in general now have a life and future of it’s own and through her relationship with the project her memories and therefore relationship with her since departed father has n’t actually ended at all.
Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor (1948) can be seen at
http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ (accessed 20/04/16)
Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project (2009) can be seen at
http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/?overview (accessed 21/04/16)
La Grange, A Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. (2005) Abingdon: Focal Press
All images were accessed from these sources.