W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Photo Essay, ‘Country Doctor’

W. Eugene Smith—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
W. Eugene Smith—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Dr. Ernest Ceriani makes a house call on foot, Kremmling, Colorado, 1948.

For his groundbreaking 1948 LIFE magazine photo essay, “Country Doctor” — seen here, in its entirety, followed by several unpublished photographs from the shoot — photographer W. Eugene Smith spent 23 days in Kremmling, Colorado, chronicling the day-to-day challenges faced by an indefatigable general practitioner named Dr. Ernest Ceriani.

Six decades later, Smith’s images from those three weeks remain as fresh as they were the moment he took them, and as revelatory as they surely felt to millions of LIFE’s readers the instant they opened the issue in which they appeared, and encountered Dr. Ceriani, his patients, and his fellow tough, uncompromising Coloradoans.

Eugene Smith’s at-times almost unsettlingly intimate pictures illustrate in poignant detail the challenges faced by a modest, tireless rural physician — and gradually reveal the inner workings and the outer trappings of what is clearly a uniquely rewarding life.

“Country Doctor” was an instant classic when first published, establishing Smith as a master of the uniquely 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.

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