Country Doctor

1948
Photograph by W. Eugene Smith

I spent four weeks living with him. I made very few pictures at first. I mainly tried to learn what made the doctor tick.

W. Eugene Smith

Country Doctor

  • W. Eugene Smith
  • 1948

Although lauded for his war photography, W. Eugene Smith left his most enduring mark with a series of midcentury photo essays for LIFE magazine. The Wichita, Kans.–born photographer spent weeks immersing himself in his subjects’ lives, from a South Carolina nurse-­midwife to the residents of a Spanish village. His aim was to see the world from the perspective of his subjects—and to compel viewers to do the same. “I do not seek to possess my subject but rather to give myself to it,” he said of his approach. Nowhere was this clearer than in his landmark photo essay “Country Doctor.” Smith spent 23 days with Dr. Ernest Ceriani in and around Kremmling, Colo., trailing the hardy physician through the ranching community of 2,000 souls beneath the Rocky Mountains. He watched him tend to infants, deliver injections in the backseats of cars, develop his own x-rays, treat a man with a heart attack and then phone a priest to give last rites. 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.

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