Good Exposure Area Health Care Professionals Put Their Photography Skills On Display

A decade ago, as he trekked through the mountains of Nepal, Dr. Paul Hetzel had a lot of time to think. And as he walked, one thought that came to mind was, ‘maybe I should start taking photography more seriously.’


That decision led to the creation of a darkroom in Hetzel’s basement, and, soon thereafter, the first black and white image the Springfield-based medical oncologist ever printed on his own.

“It was magic the first time I saw an image come alive,” he said. “That first photo would be one I’d trash right away now, but at the time I thought it was the best thing since French toast.”

Ten years after that first photo took shape, Hetzel has improved his developing process, has returned to Nepal with camera in hand, and become one of the most respected photographers in the Pioneer Valley. An upcoming exhibit at the Valley Photo Center in Springfield will include several of Hetzel’s photos, including a personal favorite of a holy man in Nepal. Hetzel isn’t alone in the world of health care professionals who chose to look at life through a lens, though; in fact, he’s one of many.

To highlight the area’s physicians-turned-photographers, the Valley Photo Center on Main Street, Springfield, will host an exhibit entitled Is There a Doctor in the House? in October and November, featuring the photography of artists who also work in various capacities in the health care field.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that many of the Valley’s top photographic talents have a background in the medical profession,” said the Valley Photo Center’s director, Keith Sikes. “Whether it’s surgeon or dental assistant, our friends in health care seem to appreciate the relaxing effects of photography.”

Sikes said the center has already received several entries from health care workers, and will continue to accept submissions until Oct. 7. He added that the photography on display will be diverse in both subject and medium, with the artists’ collective role as health care professionals serving as the common thread.

Some of the photographers already committed to the show in addition to Hetzel are neurologist R. Allison Ryan, whose work was featured in the Valley Photo Center’s front window on Main Street throughout the summer to promote Is There a Doctor in the House?; psychiatrist Len Seeve, who works exclusively with digital photography and computer-enhanced images; ophthalmologist Alfred Hutt, who specializes in macro (close-up) and panoramic photography; and retired radiologist Merrill Raikes, who will display a series of X-rayed flowers and plants.

Hetzel, who serves as president of the Pioneer Valley Photographic Artists (PVPA), will exhibit a number of black and white and full-color photos, including images from his travels across the globe and more abstract images of flowers or other nature scenes.

Developing Interest

What Hetzel won’t be showing, though, are photos of his primary profession.

“I don’t really take photos of anything to do with health care,” he said. “I’d rather steer away from that. For me, photography is a way to get out of the fast lane and into the slow lane.”

Hetzel said he and his wife, a pediatric nurse, take medical missions to Tanzania every other summer. There, he is presented with opportunities to document several aspects of health care delivery. But he prefers to keep the two facets of his life separate, in part out of respect for the people he treats as a doctor.

“It doesn’t make me feel good inside to take those kinds of pictures, and then use them in an exhibit of some sort,” he said. “And photography takes me away from the medical world, and I think many people in my field feel the same way about artistic endeavors.”

Ryan, who maintains a private practice in Northampton, said her interest in photography also remains separate from her career as a medical professional, though she admits an early interest in visual perception originally led her to the hobby.

“I’ve always had a long-standing interest in vision and I’m fascinated by visual imagery,” she said, adding that many medical professionals are drawn to photography for similar reasons. “You’ll find that there are many ophthalmologists and radiologists who are also photographers,” she said. “It just fits.”

Ryan added that she was inspired to pursue photography by the Valley Photo Center, when she entered an amateur photo contest sponsored by the center shortly after it opened on the ground floor of Tower Square, and placed second. She said she prefers to experiment with vibrant colors, interesting angles, and photos depicting diverse cultures and people.

Several of her images will be on display at the photo center’s exhibit, and can also currently be seen at Edwards Books, where several of Ryan’s prints have been hung to draw attention to the novel Visa For Avalon, by the British author Bryher (a pseudonym), which has been recently reprinted with one of Ryan’s images on the cover.

Although Ryan and Hetzel, like many part-time photographers, choose to keep their photographic subjects separate from their work, their talents have crossed boundaries between the health care and photographic worlds. Moreover, collaborations between photographers and health care facilities are not new to the Valley, though Is There a Doctor in the House? is bringing fresh attention to the phenomenon. The PVPA alone boasts several health care professionals among its ranks, many of whom will contribute to the Valley Photo Center show and can be seen in other exhibits region-wide.

“As years have gone by, it’s gotten to the point where there’s always somebody with a show somewhere,” Hetzel said.

The rise in number of photography exhibits goes hand in hand with a surge in alternative programming designed to create stimulating environments and a community-feel at health care facilities. Those shows began with a permanent rotating PVPA exhibit at Baystate Medical Center, which utilizes three separate corridors to display artwork of all kinds. The PVPA has submitted work to the Baystate program for nearly 10 years, and ophthalmologist and PVPA member Jim Rosenthal of Springfield serves as the initiative’s coordinator. Similarly, Quabbin Valley Healthcare recently created the Campbell Gallery, to honor photographer and PVPA member Les Campbell of Belchertown, and Franklin Medical Center offers a multi-disciplinary healing arts project that includes musical performances, art exhibits, and craft projects for patients and staff.

Photo Finish

Ryan has also exhibited at various facilities, including Baystate, Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, which purchased a number of her photos for display, and her own office’s waiting room. She has branched out to show and sell her work at various area galleries and beyond — as far South as Ajijic, Mexico.

She described photography as a balancing aspect of her life, enriching experiences “both exotic and mundane.” For her, photography has become a vocation in which she can constantly experiment and evolve, in contrast to her medical career.

Hetzel agreed.

“It’s a great diversion and a nice switch,” he said. “If I’m not in my office, I’m in the darkroom, which my family has taken to calling the “Bat Cave.’”

Comments are closed.