The recipient of 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 was German doctor Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965), who was also a theologian, musician and philosopher. Although the Peace Prize was given for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life”, it was also given for the founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, now in Gabon, French Equatorial Africa.
The next year, journalists and photographers flocked to Lambaréné. W. Eugene Smith–the father of the photoessay–was among them. In the photoessay “A Man of Mercy” later published in LIFE, he documented Dr. Schweitzer, his hospice, and his humanitarian work in French Equatorial Africa. A perfectionist, and darkroom master, Smith spent up to five days developing and manipulating Schweitzer photographs.
Smith’s work is one of the flattering ones 78-year old Schweitzer received. Other journalists (for instance, James Cameron) pointed out flaws in the practices and attitudes of Schweitzer and his staff. The hospital suffered from squalor, was without modern amenities and Schweitzer had little contact with the local people, although Cameron withheld the story for the great humanitarian’s sake. The American John Gunther was more blatant: he reported Schweitzer’s patronizing attitude towards Africans, the lack of skilled Africans, and Schweitzer’s dependence on European nurses after three decades.