CAN Exercise 2.1 The Dad Project


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

Make some notes in your learning log

How does Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project compare with country doctor?

  • The Country Doctor

William Eugene Smith’s photo essay ‘The Country Doctor’, covers the life and work of Dr Ernest Guy Ceriani, a GP tasked with providing 24/7 medical care to 2000 inhabitants in the small town of Kremling, Colarado and the 400 miles surrounding it (Abel-Hirsch, 2017).

Commissioned by Life Magazine in 1948, and shot over a 4 week period the essay highlights the effects of the shortage of doctors in remote US communities at that time.

(Smith, 1948)

The Country Doctor works in series: the arrangement of images providing viewers with a carefully crafted snapshot of Ceriani’s existence. With the order of his photographs being as important as each individual frame.

(Abel-Hirsch, 2017)

Smith was perhaps the single most important American photographer in the development of the editorial photo essay… Country Doctor, [is] now recognised as the first extended editorial photo story.

(O’Hagan, 2017)
  • The Dad Project

Bryony Campbell’s ‘The Dad Project’ is a deeply moving personal photo essay covering the 6 months preceding her father’s untimely death.  David Campbell, the eminent clinical psychologist, died of cancer on 25 August 2009. 

Forming the basis of her Masters in documentary photography at the London College of Communication the project was a collaboration between Campbell and her father.  Campbell feels as though it helped provide a focus during the short time she had left with her father (Lomas, 2011). 

  • Comparison

The similarities between Country Doctor and The Dad Project are that they are both photo essays dealing empathetically with medical themes.  However, their original contexts differ which in turn has significant bearings on their outcomes. 

Smith’s Country Doctor is a commercially driven outsider project whereas Campbell’s The Dad Project is a deeply personal insider project.  The effect of these differences is that Smith’s essay shows a hard hitting, no holes barred asthetic.  The grainy monochrome narrative can be visually jarring as we see detailed close-ups of pretty unpleasant situations. 

Campbell on the otherhand is portraying a ‘story of love’.  To her, as she describes, ‘the more painful the subject the more beautiful I wanted to make it’. 

The original contextual differences flow into the editorial control she would have had compared to the Life Magazine control over the publishing and sequencing of Smith’s essay.

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

Clearly this story does have an ending in the sense that her father died in August 2009; the poignancy and sadness of the ending being a critical factor in the significance of the work. 

But by an ending without an ending I believe Campbell is referring partly to the legacy of the project itself and also the closeness she felt to her father whilst preparing the project. His memory and influence, seemingly enhanced during the ‘project’, will clearly live with her forever and so to that extent there isn’t an ending.

On page 9 of her blog Campbell says in realising The Dad Project I made a lot of tough decisions. Without my dad, but very much with him.


Abel-Hirsch, H. (2017). Country Doctor. [online] Magnum Photos. Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].

Lomas, M. (2011). ‘I take pictures I am compelled to take…’. Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].

O’Hagan, S. (2017). W Eugene Smith, the photographer who wanted to record everything. The Guardian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].

Smith, W. (1948). Dr Ceriani photographed after having performed a caesarean section. Both mother and baby died due to complications.. [image] Available at: [Accessed 7 Oct. 2019].

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