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The Hunting of Dr. Craft | The Nation

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The Hunting of Dr. Craft

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Craft was a Georgia clinical psychologist specializing in children. In Augusta, where he'd been practicing for years, he was respected by colleagues as a gifted diagnostician and exceptionally dedicated clinician. No one had ever received a complaint about his work. Instead, he regularly got accolades, and parents raved about the progress their hyperactive, anorexic, dyslexic and depressed children made under his care. His success stemmed from a finely honed ability to observe kids in play therapy without intruding, then gently modify their behavior. If a child cursed, for example, Craft might discuss with her what she was angry about, then reassure her it was OK to use bad words in his office but might not be in school or at home.

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Judy Jackson
Judy Jackson is a New York City-based forensic consultant and writer. She has contributed to NYPress and Filmmaker...
Debbie Nathan
Debbie Nathan, a New York City-based writer, is the author of Women and Other Aliens: Essays From the U.S.-Mexican...

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For several years Craft had used photography in his practice as "a vehicle for documenting accomplishment," he wrote in a letter to his attorney retrospectively analyzing his behavior, and as a tool "for boosting self-esteem." He took pictures of his young patients' drawings and the masterpieces they built with Lincoln Logs; he snapped kids in the office parking lot when the setting sunlight made their faces glow; and he gave the children and their parents many of these photos to take home. Today, one of Craft's colleagues told us he takes child patients' pictures, too--but only with parents in the office, and he asks kids to cover up if they impulsively remove their clothing. Craft never bothered with these precautions.

As he admits now, he became increasingly consumed with using his camera to capture reality without stopping to pick and choose the images he wanted. He shot photos of nature, and of his adult friends and neighbors and their children. Feeling that his strict Southern Baptist upbringing was inhibiting his spontaneity when it came to the human body, he took classes in fashion photography featuring scantily clad and nude adult females, hoping his shutter finger would become less censorious.

More and more, his goal was to shoot, shoot and shoot some more, always keeping subjects candid, pausing as little as possible. There were days when he used up ten or twenty rolls. Within a few years his elegant suburban home had become an indoor junkyard of thousands of slides, photos and videotapes, few arranged in any order, most looked at only once and then stuck back in photo-lab envelopes that were never opened again. His wife, Kay, constantly urged him to cull through the mess; he simply took more pictures. That made him a shutterbug, but if the envelopes had been old newspapers, he would have been deemed a hoarder, an obsessive-compulsive in need of help.

In fact, as Craft, Kay and his former colleagues now say, he could have used counseling for depression caused in part by an excess of work. His longtime employment with the local VA hospital as assistant chief of psychology had devolved into dull administrative duties. The Xanax he took did not alleviate his anxiety over having enough money to retire on, so he continued to consult on traumatic brain-injured patients at the Medical College of Georgia and stayed active as a military reserve officer while maintaining his private practice. What he wanted was to quit psychology completely and immerse himself in photography. But he didn't think he could afford it.

In addition, he fretted about the younger of his two grown sons, who had revealed as a teenager that he was gay. In Augusta, whose economy and culture are dominated by the Army, a military bomb factory and deep-seated fundamentalist Christianity, Craft was considered a liberal. Still, he had trouble dealing with his son's homosexuality and had tried to talk him out of it. The son pulled away emotionally and never came back; Craft felt bereft of fatherhood and didn't know how to recover it. One thing helped--capturing the developmental minutiae of other people's kids for posterity. Photographing them was "relaxing, soothing and almost mystical," he said recently.

Yet many of these children were former and current patients. And the more Craft got into photography, the more his therapeutic intent was superseded by his compulsion to use the camera. He was photographing his preschool-aged patients practically nonstop as they sat on his office floor, legs splayed, playing with toys. He did so even when they moved the wrong way and flashed glimpses of underwear--or portions of scrotum and labia. Some of his patients had been referred by child-protection authorities after being removed from their homes for child abuse, and he shot a couple of these kids as they exhibited their genitals while exposing wounds on their abdomens. He gave an indigent little girl a new dress, then took that gallery-quality photograph of her changing into it.

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