Post Sandy emergency medical response on Staten Island
Led this year to the hospital project…..
For a photog, the path of the generalist can be a fraught one. You are never the first shooter called, for instance, because you are never the regarded as the “best” at anything. You’re never the best action guy, or still life expert. You don’t do celebrity enough to have Tom Cruise or Beyonce on speed dial. You barely know any Hollywood publicists, and many of the ones you might have met you couldn’t stand. You might shoot the occasional wedding, but given the fierceness of that market, you’ll never be real player. You don’t know a musk ox from a Jersey cow, so that rules out wildlife. And you just flat out suck at landscape.
I’ve basically just described myself, really. My entire career has consisted of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. The generalist. My answer over the phone when someone asks me if I can shoot something is “Yes, of course.” The shakes start when I put the phone down. I liken my wonderful predicament as being like that of being a pretty good utility player on a baseball team. I don’t handle any one position the best, but by golly I can play a bunch of different spots pretty well, and hit the cutoff man when the game is on the line. Most of the time.
This had led to many photographic adventures, to be sure. The most recent, and certainly one of the most memorable of my career, arrived on our doorstep earlier this year. I was commissioned to create a book, a visual poem, if you will, to the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System. What an amazing job. It touched on many, if not most, of the skills in the photog’s bag–human relations, sensitivity to situations, hitting deadlines, run and gun shooting, remote camera photography, lighting, and all manner of off the cuff, impromptu camera work. It also confirmed what I have always preached–the camera is a visa. In this instance, one to visit the astonishing world of modern medicine.
Jeff Barasch, the president of Onward Publishing, rang up with the notion of doing this job in the fall of last year. We share a history together at the Time Inc. publications, and, via Jeff, I was introduced to the amazing staff of NSLIJ, who organized the 25 day shoot. We shot at pre-dawn, all through the night, in the snow, in high tech operating rooms, in delivery rooms, in the ER. It was one of those “all in” jobs, the ones that stick with you, not just while you are shooting, but while you are at breakfast, in the shower, driving home. After every day in the field, you always feel you could have done better, so you get home, charge batteries, download cards, and roll again before the sunlight, determined to engage at a higher level. And, at this turn of the page, it was handy enough to be a generalist, because almost everyday, the job demanded a different skill set, or another approach.
Ambulance moving through Manhattan
Having a photog pop into, say, a delivery room, is, while not a medical miracle, certainly a logistical one. Permissions, understandably, are required. Delicacy at the camera is needed, perhaps even more than a working knowledge of the relationships between f-stops and shutter speeds. I’ve done many medical coverages for the Geographic, so I know my way around an operating theater, but in these intense rooms, your first and always quietly asked question is, “May I stand here?”
Doctor and nurse work in concert during open heart surgery.
The staff of medical professionals I met on this job were nothing but extraordinary, daily marshaling the combination of humanity, compassion, expertise and technology needed to meet the nearly overwhelming medical needs of a metropolitan area such as New York and its surrounding communities. It was one of those jobs where, photographically, you rarely came away empty handed. There was always something, a medical marvel, a simple human interaction, a victory story, something, to turn your camera towards. I wanted it to keep going, truth be told.
A young girl regains hearing in both ears via cochlear implants.
Teamwork in the Bioskills lab.
Checking chart in operating theater hallway.
The healing touch of animals.
Morning coffee for the residents.
24 hours post op, first steps.
And, heading home, with a new life.
A very worthwhile job, a lucky one to fall to the generalist, the camera jack of all trades. Thanks to Jeff, Justin Colby and the gang at Onward for thinking of our studio, and of course to the folks at the hospital, especially Cecelia Fullam, whose foresight led to the creation of the book. And to Barbara Mlawer, Robert Castano, Ken McMillan–thank you for putting up with some of my nuttier ideas.
There were some intriguing, ad hoc camera and lighting solutions involved in this job, and I will diagram a few in blogs to come…..more tk….