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BCA News: Fall 2017

Member Profile: Rick Dewitt

My father was an avid amateur photographer, shooting with a medium format Minolta and printing black and white enlargements in the laundry room in our home in Pennsylvania. I started taking pictures in earnest while in junior high school. I shot quite a bit for my high school yearbook and set my sights on studying photography in college. At that time, my family moved to Maryland, and I entered University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In the new house, Dad created a permanent darkroom in the basement and we started printing color.

A new camera store opened nearby operated by a retired magazine photographer. While discussing the various career options for photographers, she mentioned a friend, Jim Todesco, who worked as a photographer at an area hospital. He was the first BPA member I ever met. He had attended the Johns Hopkins Pathology Photography training program run by Ray (Pete) Lund. So I went down to Hopkins to meet Ray and he told me to come back when I graduated. In the meantime, I volunteered at the Baltimore VA hospital for a summer. I went to the OR, shot surgical specimens and made LPD and Kodalith slides.

I applied for a position at Johns Hopkins during my last semester at Maryland and started the day after graduation. The program was for two years on the job training, but fortunately, perhaps because of the volunteering I had done at the VA, I was hired permanently as a Senior Medical Photographer after one year. With the job security and the advice of my immediate supervisor and mentor, Norman Barker, I entered graduate school at Hopkins, and began working on my RBP. For me, the learning opportunities at Hopkins were amazing. On a daily basis we would photograph with microscopes and macro-scopes using a wide variety of sheet film and roll film formats.

On my own, I enjoyed photographing the old Baltimore train station and Fells Point, and the skipjacks on the Chesapeake Bay. I met my wife while photographing landscapes in the Loch Raven watershed. That area was a wonderful place to hone my skills doing macro field photography of live insects such as early morning dragonflies covered in dew.

In 1990, we moved to New York and I began working at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. We bought a house on City Island and I began taking pictures for our local paper, The Island Current, which I still do today. I particularly enjoy photographing the parades and annual fireworks. My three children often ended up in my final selections for publication.

I moved on to Saint Barnabas Medical Center in the pathology department and began doing digital photomicrography for their grand round lectures. Even the EM section was moving to digital in the late 90s. In 1999 the photography section (me) was closed and I moved on. After temporary positions at Corcoran Real Estate doing software training and IBM, doing graphics work, I found my dream job at Memorial Sloan Kettering in early 2000. They were looking for someone to transition their photography department from darkroom to digital.

The early digital cameras were good for some things, but we still shot film for many things, including 4x5 on copy stands. Gradually slide scanning replaced slide duping, computer graphics replaced copy work, and we photographed patients and OR work with the improving digital cameras. The darkrooms were eliminated for good when our office moved and the new space was like any other office, with big printers.

Around that time, the photography section experienced staff reductions and there were only two of us remaining. But, almost simultaneously, the hospital experienced phenomenal growth, and quality photography was in huge demand to support the large quantity of design and print work. I took this opportunity to learn everything I could about shooting on location. Medical photography was called for less, creative editorial and marketing more. Lucky for me, New York City has plenty of educational opportunities, and blogs like the Strobist were a huge resource. I am also fortunate to have department supervisors that supported continuing education.

Currently, I am busier than I have ever been, sometimes shooting four or five hours a day. So now the challenge is to find time to edit the work and make sure it looks as good as it can. With the jobs getting bigger, and more complex, I frequently have an art director with me to help. The extra set of eyes and creative assistance is a huge asset on location, which is frequently a busy research lab, or clinic area.

In a surprise twist, the demand for patient medical photography has increased dramatically with the rise of clinical trials at MSK. So, in a career field full of technological transformations, one more change has brought me full circle.

Editor’s Note: Rick presented at BIOCOMM 2017 in Portland, Oregon. His talk, “Photographing the Caring Canines at Memorial Sloan Kettering” described how taking a group photograph of employees and the caring canine dogs turned into a long-term successful project. Now into its 7th year, an annual calendar of the caring canines is created and sold in the hospital’s gift shop in addition to trading cards that are given to patients.


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