Wow, that was a hard read. I had to take Briony Campbell’s photo essay in several bite size chunks. The Dad Project is extraordinarily intimate, touching on something so personal yet at the same time universal in theme. It also tackles a subject, which I think is still to a certain degree, taboo. Part of is power for me is its ability to resonate, it speaks to me as a daughter, now a stepdaughter and a photographer. I utterly relate to her thoughts around narcissism, and not putting yourself in the frame.
I think there are similarities with W. Eugene Smith’s “Country Doctor,” in terms of what I would define (as an ethnographic researcher) as ‘participant-observation’. They were both engaged in studying cultures, that of the work of the Doctor and of a family undergoing one of the most profound changes we have all have to face. They both appear to draw on humanist traditions and looking to speak of human experience and relationships. Both sets of images also pose questions about the human condition.
They also have their differences. While Eugene Smith’s works remain fresh and vital, for me they have an almost painterly quality. The fact that they are black and white highlights the tonal differences and the chiaroscuro effect. I am also conscious of the fact that while Eugene Smith built a rapport with Dr. Ceriani he only spent 23 days with him and his community. Briany Campbell’s work is about a lifelong relationship coming to an end in its physical form. She also puts herself in the frame as a means of acknowledging this relationship. Not all of her images are in sharp focus and I think their softness speaks of emotions, and the ambiguities and challenges she writes about struggling with. They have gentleness and like others my response to her words and images has been tears. Tears for the beauty and pain she has captured, and tears for my own family losses and grief.
When she speaks of it being an ‘ending without an ending’ I think she is referring to the story living on in her images and photo essay. I also think she is talking about her on-going relationship with her father even though his physical presence is no longer with her.