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BCA News: Fall 2019

Member Profile:
Danielle Renshaw

What is your primary line of work?

I am a Medical Investigator at one job, and a Histotechnologist at the other job. 

What got you inspired to be a photographer/illustrator? Tell us about your career path.

My mom was a medical photographer. She went to school at Bellevue Community College for medical photography while I went there for pre-school. That was when I was first forced into photography. I spent many long days with her in the dark room. My entire childhood, I was exposed to photography, either watching my mom work and trying to help or being forced to be in front of the camera.

When I was in high school, my mom worked for Providence Health System and I spent many hours with her at work. She did a lot of work for Dr. Starr, co-inventor of the Starr-Edwards artificial heart valve, which meant lots of late hours. I would do my homework but I also helped her with her work so I had some good exposure to medical photography. When I was a sophomore in high school, I applied for scholarship thorough a "Minorities in Science" program in which, Dr. Starr gave me a recommendation letter. I was awarded the scholarship and worked at the Casey Eye Institute for my last two years of high school. I enjoyed doing research and dissecting eyeballs was interesting and a good introduction to medicine. I went to the University of Washington for my bachelor's degree. I majored in Spanish Linguistics and Pre-Med. While in undergraduate school, I worked in the hospital's Immunohistochemistry and Electron Microscopy labs. I learned how to perform all aspects of the job in both departments but enjoyed being in the darkroom printing, most of all. Photography has also been just a hobby, until my current job.

Yucatan Mission © Danielle Renshaw

Describe your typical workday?

I work at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office. I assist with autopsies and investigate death scenes to help determine cause and manner of death. Photography is a major part of documenting a death scene. What we find at the scene may help us in determining the cause of death. During the autopsy, we photograph the body and document any injury or evidence that may need to be collected or anything that may help in identification of the person.

What is most rewarding about your work?

I feel like I am helping people when I am working on a case. It is gratifying to know that I am helping people who have lost their loved ones get some answers and help find closure during the hardest times in their lives.

Where do you find creative inspiration when work begins to feel routine? What motivates you to continue in your line of work?

BCA is a source of inspiration and I know I can look for information on the website, and I know who I can ask for tips and techniques. I really enjoy the papers that are presented at BIOCOMM and I always learn something, even if the topic is not related to the work I do.

Do you have any tips or special techniques for connecting with your subject?

I feel like everyone has a story to tell and in some way I am helping to tell their very last story.

What technology/software/gear do you use? Are people skills as important as technical skills in your line of work?

We have a field photo kit in each van for the investigators to photograph the scene. It consists of a Nikon 3400 with a flash and a zoom lens. Additionally we have a couple of Nikon bodies and macro lenses in the morgue. We also have ceiling mounted studio lights to light the subject, or we can use a flash for close up. After talking to my mom and doing some research, I convinced the pathologist that we needed to convert a camera to infrared. We did that and it has helped us with photographing some tattoos, bitemarks and shoe impressions.

Being able to connect with the families who have lost loved ones is very important. Showing empathy and understanding while explaining what happened to their loved one and the next steps that will have to be taken is difficult but also keeps me wanting to do the work.

Yucatan Mission © Danielle Renshaw

Do you have special interests outside of work? Do you enjoy photography/illustration outside of work?

Well, I have five children so am pretty busy with them and their activities. I do like to photograph them and their sports games.

Do you have any advice for photographers/illustrators interested in a career in biomedical/life sciences photography?

When thinking of places to work, step out of the box a little. Many jobs require photography, especially scientific. Be versatile so you can do any type of photography.

Lastly, pictures always tell a story. Please include some examples of your favourite images and tell us a little bit about them.

I can't show you anything from work. I have photos of my kids and enjoy doing newborn photography or going on photo trips. I tend to concentrate on close-ups, even in the landscape.

Isaiah © Danielle Renshaw

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