Exercise: Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project

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

There are a number of similarities between the two works:

  • Both works clearly fall into the documentary category: they show the situations just as they are. They don’t glorify the subject, rather they just tell the story.
  • The photos show a range of emotions: some happy times as well as serious times.
  • Neither work provides much context – they both focus mainly on the subject e.g. in Smith’s series, there is only a single image showing the town of Kremmling and the surrounding mountains.
  • They both use captions to help explain what we see.

There are also a number of important differences between the two works:

  • Smith’s use of black and white vs. Campbell’s use of colour give the works a different feel with Smith’s being more classically journalistic while Cambell’s are obviously more realistic, but also more intimate.
  • While both use captions, some of Campbell’s are quite long illustrating her thoughts and feelings, while Smith’s are factual and don’t speak at all of his own feelings.
  • Campbell’s images are more personal rather than documentary – you can tell that her Dad was aware of her presence, while Smith’s work appears to be more of the detached journalistic style.
  • Campbell’s images can be seen as a linear narrative because we clearly see the degeneration that her Dad went through. The timeline is therefore important and re-arranging the images might produce a confused message. On the other hand, Smith’s images don’t have a time element overall, although there are some sub-narratives such as that of the amputation of Thomas Mitchell or of the little girl who was kicked by a horse. However, even those sub-stories could be swapped without any loss of meaning. For the most part, the images are standalone – each one telling a short story, but within the overall narrative, the exact order is not important to comprehend what is happening.
  • Finally, we can’t escape that Campbell’s work is very personal – the death of her Dad, with whom we can imagine she had a very loving relationship. Smith’s work, while plainly deeply involved, can never have the same connection.

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

I think she means that while her Dad’s physical life has ended, in a sense he lives on within her through the memories she has and the values that he instilled in her such as “waste not, want not” which appears at the beginning of the essay. I think she sums this up perfectly right at the end of the essay:

“I consider myself fortunate that the memories of my wonderful dad’s death enrich me rather than depress me, and fortunate for feeling comfortable talking about it. It means I can do it as often as it may be relevant, thus keeping his memory ever present. 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, 2011)


Campbell, B. (2011) The Dad Project At: http://www.brionycampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The_Dad_Project_Briony_Campbell.pdf [Accessed 19 February 2017)

Cosgrove, B. (2012) W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’. At: http://time.com/3456085/w-eugene-smiths-landmark-photo-essay-country-doctor/ [Accessed 19 February 2017]



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