W. Eugene Smith
W. Eugene Smith's 1948 photo essay 'Country Doctor' in LIFE magazine established the artist as a master of the photo essay, and solidified his stature as one of the most passionate and influential photojournalists of the 20th century.
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May 5th 2022 | 15:00
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W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978) was a pioneer of photojournalism and master of the photographic essay. He is credited with creating the concept of the photo essay, telling a story in pictures with matching captions.
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After World War II, LIFE magazine assigned staff photographer W. Eugene Smith a human interest story about a doctor in rural America. They sent him to Kremmling, a small and remote town in northern Colorado. His subject: Dr. Ernest Ceriani.
At first, Smith observed Dr. Ceriani and earned the trust of the townspeople. He wrote: 'I spent four weeks living with him. I made very few pictures at first. ... I simply faded into the wallpaper and waited.' The resulting story spanned 11 pages in LIFE's September 20, 1948 edition.
Smith's intimate series depicts Dr. Ceriani as a heroic yet weary figure who made house calls, delivered babies, and tended to the young and old alike. Through Smith's lens, he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as the only doctor within 400 miles.
A LIFE compendium later summarized 'Country Doctor' as "an instant classic when published, establishing Smith as a master of the commanding young art form of the photo essay, and solidifying his stature as one of the most passionate and influential photojournalists of the 20th century." As TIME magazine explained in its 2016 compendium '100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time': "By digging so deeply into his assignment, Smith created a singular, starkly intimate glimpse into the life of a remarkable man. It became not only the most influential photo essay in history but the aspirational template for the form.'"