Country Doctor – Photo Essay by W. Eugene Smith

Country Doctor – Photo Essay by W. Eugene Smith


What’s up Photography fans? Martin here
from ALL ABOU TSTREET PHOTOGRAPHY channel and today I’m not going to talk
about a particular picture but rather about a group of pictures. Photo essay
Country Doctor by William Eugene Smith. I’m going to take a closer look at the
story behind the photographs and if you are not familiar with William Eugene
Smith feel free to check out my video about his life and photography. So let’s
get started! In 1948 commissioned by Life magazine
Smith spent 23 days with Dr. Ernest Ceriani and produced a photo essay about
Colorado’s country doctor. Now as I have already mentioned in my previous video
about Smith he was called “perhaps the single most important American
photographer in the development of the editorial photo essay” he was known to
shoot projects so large that they cannot be displayed in any museum as they
contains tens of thousands of images. The most known and important ones are for
example Minamata Japan or Pacific World War II. But let’s talk about the Country
Doctor. Now it’s important to understand that this photo essay
country doctor was created in post-war pre television pre-internet times and
magazines such as Life were very important for people to get information.
Life magazine had about 20 million readers at that time. In 1948 National
Health Service was launched in England so the healthcare could no longer be
exclusive only to those who could afford it. American Medical Association was
concerned about general practitioners and their future in the US as medical
schools were pushing their graduates into specializations rather than general
practice. It was also more lucrative for students as specialization brought a
higher potential income. Doctors with high specialization were also more
likely to move to bigger cities even though a lot of people still lived in
the rural areas. looking for the support of private general practice American
Medical Association contacted Colorado Medical Society and they recommended Dr. Ceriani as he was young, photogenic and most
suitable a subject for a strong statement to support general practice
and get publicity. The goal of the essay was to attract young students of medical
schools to become general practitioners. Dr. Ernest Ceriani settled in Kremmling
Colorado after leaving the hospital in Denver since he didn’t like the busy and
bureaucratic hospital. The population of Kremmling Colorado was something about
650 people even though some sources talk about 2,000 people. When Smith met Dr. Ceriani it was just one year after Ceriani settled in Kremmling and they
were both of the same age. Smith photographed Dr. Ceriani in all
types of situations when working, when not working, his personal life, together
with patients and even during operations. This is a beautiful photo of Dr. Ceriani
on the way to visit his patients. Dr. Ceriani worked long and hard as we can
see in this photo that Smith took when he was sleeping on an operation table. It
is hard to imagine today that you would visit your doctor and he would be with a
photographer taking pictures of you while you are being taken care of. It was
actually a hard thing for Dr. Ceriani to introduce him to the patients
and explain why he was there. Smith was actually following his every movement
and Ceriani said himself it didn’t take long until he started to ignore him. This
one is probably one of the most well known photograph catching Dr. Ceriani
smoking with a cup of coffee exhausted. This photo was taken after his patients
a woman and her child unfortunately both died and he could not do anything about
it. The photo essa was a huge success Dr. Ceriani became kind of celebrity the
story was revised several times and he even got invited to TV and radio shows.
Dr. Ceriani spend his whole professional life in Kremmling and he died at the age of
72. Life magazine was very happy about the
photo essay it was an insight in the work of practitioner that had never been
seen before. Smith however was very critical of himself and his work he even
said I don’t really like hearing compliments about it I have stopped
looking at it because I see so many defects every time I look at it. It could
have been done much better. He also wasn’t happy about the layout Life
magazine picked to present the photos with. This is actually a typical for
Smith as he was almost never satisfied with the way his photos were presented.
According to him the order of the photographs was as important as each photo.
Life magazine actually published about 30 photos out of 200 Smith selected. In
1954 Smith left Life magazine after another disagreement over edits of his
essay and joined Magnum the year after. For more information about William
Eugene Smith feel free to check out my video about him. I hope you like today’s
“Story behind this picture.” If you did feel free to give it a like. Thank you
for watching and I will see you next time.

3 thoughts on “Country Doctor – Photo Essay by W. Eugene Smith”

  1. A revisionist approach to photography would be an interesting approach, a lot of these famous photographers were very corrupted and often political.

  2. Thank you for your perspective about W.Eugene Smith. I had not spend any time in the past exploring him. Yourway of describing him is very good, informative and well structured. I'm subscribing to your channel now.

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