Art in Med - Behind the Lens

I am always excited to have those moments as a photojournalist where you are in a room, and you can’t help but be in awe of the scene you are getting to witness. I have had a few of these moments as a staff photographer at the Columbia Missourian this semester, but the one recently that has stuck with me, and will for a long time, came while working on an art in medicine story.

A few weeks ago, I was up to no good at the photo desk in the Missourian newsroom when I overheard a reporter that needed a photographer for an art in medicine story. Portraits? Art? I had to inquire.

The reporter ended up being a classmate of mine named Grace Kenyon. Grace is a talented writer and incredibly cerebral and empathetic human. I wanted in on this project.

Fast forward to the first shoot about a week later, Grace and I met up in the lobby of the Columbia Women’s Hospital and were about to get full access to a music therapy session in the NICU. The moment was beautiful. You could see how the tiny premature baby was reacting to the chords and music that was filling an overcrowded hospital room. The baby’s father harmonized with the melodies being played by the music therapist. I was in awe, not wanting to miss a single frame. It was beautiful. Grace shed a tear.

The project took me from the hospital to a lab where simulator prosthetics are made and meet the mad scientist/artist that keeps clear Ziploc bags labeled “baby leg skins” in his cabinets and says things like “let me get those genitals off the table” before I broke out my camera.

After the lab it was a retired doctor’s home, an office in one of the campus hospitals and then finally a medical school atrium.

Somewhere in there I think I went to Nashville and then Sacramento photographing the Men’s Basketball team, but that’s a story for another time.

About the Portraits

I decided early on that I wanted to push the envelope (and myself) with these portraits. Five different portraits, five different people, five different environments to shoot them in. Luckily, we were in our lighting section of my staff photography class that Jackie Bell teaches, so flash and lighting was heavy on my mind. I decided that similar lighting across the board would give the portraits a thread to tie them all together. A few weeks ago, I tested one of the lighting kits with our Director of Photography, Brian Kratzer, and knew this was the time to teach myself to be comfortable with a portable studio lighting setup.

I decided to use a high contrast lighting with the subject’s shadow included to create a stylized portrait that brings out the subject while also highlighting some of the environment that the subject is in. I used a single off camera bare bulb strobe as my main light with an on the camera flash to fill some of the shadows that were cast on the face of the subject. I was drawing inspiration from Nic Antaya, a talented young photographer I met at the Missouri Photo Workshop last fall when we were both participants in Excelsior Springs, Mo.

In the portrait of Dr. Robin Blake, I intentionally sat him in front of windows and used subtractive lighting to create the effect that I did. His portrait was shot in the middle of the day on a fairly bright day. The flash was brighter than the light coming in through the window which is how I got the dark cloud look.

For gear I used the Canon R6 with a 15-35 mm 2.8 lens for any documentary style work and for the portraits I used my Nikon D850 with a 50mm lens and a strobe I checked out from the equipment locker. The strobe was a dynalight system that proved to be more and more finicky as the prongs in the connectors would get bent so easily it seemed. There were a few shoots that had me sweating while the subject is watching me struggle to plug chords in to each other.


I am happy to have learned the lessons that I did from this project. If you haven’t checked it out yet, here is the link to the images that made the edit for the Columbia Missourian and the beautiful words Grace wrote:

Hopefully there are more portraits in the future! Thanks for reading if you made it this far.

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