BCA News: Fall 2019
Member Profile: Peter Pallagi
What is your primary line of work?
Currently, I work as the enterprise manager of photography for Mayo Clinic. I'm privileged to help manage about 30 photographers, coordinators and media specialists across our campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.
What got you inspired to be a photographer? Tell us about your career path.
When I started college, I didn't put much thought into what I was going to do with my life. After graduating high school with mediocre grades, I didn't have many opportunities to continue pursuing what was my goal at the time—to play football in college. I took what I could get—a scholarship to play at Glendale Community College. As a 6'6", 250-pound defensive lineman, all I wanted to do was transfer to a Division I college and play as long as I could. Because of this, I decided to take classes that would transfer and didn't put much thought into what I would pursue as a career.
After a successful first year and a disappointing second year, I decided it was time to move on from football, get a job and work while earning my degree. I was hired as a doorman at a nightclub near Arizona State University and started pursuing a degree in business management. While I was working at the nightclub, I met a guy who started photographing people in the club and printing photos for them on-demand. This was around the year 2000; digital cameras were a very new technology. When I saw that you could take a photo, see it immediately and print it within a few minutes, I became hooked. At first it was just a hobby, but photography was all I wanted to do. I had a year left until I would obtain my BA in business management, but decided to change my degree to a BFA in photography.
During my time in the fine arts program at ASU, I enjoyed learning about the works of Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photographers of the FSA. I decided I would take photojournalism classes in addition to the fine art classes and hope for a position as a photojournalist when I graduated. In December of 2005 I graduated from ASU with a degree in fine arts (photography). In January of 2006 I saw a posting for a job as a photojournalist for a daily newspaper on the other side of town, about an hour away from my home. I was offered the job and took it. After making the 100-mile round trip commute every day for two years, I got another job closer to home for a weekly newspaper.
In late 2008, I learned that Mayo Clinic had a team of staff photographers at their Phoenix and Scottsdale campuses. I called the manager there, who was very polite, but I got the impression he was often called by people looking for photography work. He told me to send him my portfolio and he'd let me know if they had anything available. I immediately sent the link to my portfolio and heard back from him five minutes later. He let me know a position had just opened up earlier in the week and brought me in for an interview. I was hired on the spot as a contractor and worked 1½ days per week while also working as a full-time photojournalist. About six months later I was laid off from the newspaper, so I told my Mayo Clinic manager that I would be available to work as often as possible. Just over a year later, in September of 2010, I accepted a full-time position as a photographer covering clinical, surgical and editorial work for the organization.
Describe your typical workday?
I typically start the day around 7:30 AM. I usually have a very full inbox since the day started hours earlier in Minnesota and Florida. Once I clear out the emails I usually have several meetings to participate in as well as photo shoots and typical management duties.
What is most rewarding about your work?
Working with the people I get to work with on a daily basis. The teams of photographers at the three campuses are comprised of some of the most talented and caring people I've ever come across. They sincerely want to produce the best work possible and treat every shoot as the most important one they'll ever do. I'm humbled by their expertise and inspired by them every day.
The leadership at Mayo Clinic is second to none as well. Mayo Clinic leaders are the definition of servant leaders. They make sure we have everything we need and allow us to own our ideas and pursue our goals, helping in any way they can along the way. Successful projects and assignments are rewarding too, of course, but they wouldn't be possible without the support and encouragement from the people we work with at Mayo Clinic.
Where do you find creative inspiration when work begins to feel routine? What motivates you to continue in your line of work?
The work I do rarely feels routine. One day I could be flying a drone around the campus to get an architectural shot for Public Affairs, while another day I could be photographing a living donor transplant in the OR. As the sustainability officer for Arizona, I may be meeting with City leaders to discuss waste collection, while later that day I may be taking a portrait of our CEO for a publication. I've also had days with back-to-back meetings that end at Arizona State University talking with a group of engineering students creating a new imaging device for Ophthalmology. I've presented a software project I helped develop at a grand rounds and traveled to various states to photograph patient success stories, but I often just sit in my office and edit images for most of the day, too. The various projects and duties I have provide me with creative inspiration and motivation on a daily basis.
Do you have any tips or special techniques for connecting with your subject?
I think the best way to connect with your subject is to be authentically curious. I am genuinely interested in what people do; they fascinate me. Sometimes I get so carried away asking questions about what a researcher is working on or what novel treatments are being carried out by a physician that I need to remind myself to keep taking pictures. When someone feels that what they are doing is as interesting to you as it is to them, they tend to relax and let their guard down. I feel those are the best conditions for the best photos.
What technology/software/gear do you use? Are people skills as important as technical skills in your line of work?
Mayo Clinic uses mostly Canon DSLRs, lenses and accessories. We light subjects mostly with Canon Speedlites, Profotos, Godox/Flashpoint, and Elinchrom. We also have a fleet of DJI drones—Inspire 1s with Mavic Pro 2s and Mavic 2 Zooms. My go-to gear for most editorial shoots is a Lowepro Roller X200 AW with three Photek Softlighter umbrellas strapped to the side. Inside I have six Phottix Padat Carbon 200 lights stands (comparable to the Manfrotto 5001B), six Canon 600-EX-RT-II speedlites, one ST-E3-RT, six Flashpoint shoe-mount triple brackets, Honlphoto color correcting gels and six velcro-strap gel holders. I find it works well for events and portraits of all kinds. I tend to bring way more than I need in terms of gear; I like to have options. My camera bag has a Canon 5D Mark IV with the vertical grip. For lenses, I bring along the 85mm f/1.2, 50mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 100mm f/2.8 macro and a 8-15mm f/4.0 fisheye.
On the medical side, some of our sites prefer the articulating screen and lens options of the Canon 80D, others prefer the full-frame sensor options. For lighting subjects, we use the Canon MR-14-EX II and the Canon MT-24-EX modified for cross polarization, and we often bounce-light using the 600-EX-RT II. For lenses, we use the 100mm macro, 60mm macro, 50mm macro, and a discontinued 28-105mm zoom lens that allows for macro photography using the ring lite without getting an annoying vignette. We all hope that Canon comes up with an option to replace this that doesn't vignette someday soon!
In regards to people skills being as important as technical skills, I would say people skills are significantly more important. Technical skills can be taught, but people skills are often something you have or you don't.
Do you have special interests outside of work? Do you do photography outside of work?
I have three children that I try to spend as much time as possible with. I have terabytes of photos of them and I plan on adding many more...TBs, not children. My wife and I take them on road trips several times throughout the year.
Of course, I make time for photography just for me. One of my favorite pastimes is to drive out to the Navajo Reservation about 40 miles outside of Flagstaff, AZ, and shoot. I often return to a specific location that I discovered about 20 years ago. I've lost count of how many times I've traveled there over the years, but it's safe to say I go multiple times per year. I've shot there in every season, every weather condition, during the day and night and it never gets old.
I also make time to hike with old friends a couple times per year. We usually travel to one of the many amazing parks in the southwest, but we've also traveled as far as Iceland.
Do you have any advice for photographers/illustrators interested in a career in biomedical/life sciences photography?
Be curious; curiosity will keep your career from getting stale. There are so many aspects to photography that there's always something new to learn. Plus, schooling will only get you so far—you need to really be interested in figuring out what you don't know.
Take risks. When I was offered my first job in photography I already had a decent job only a half mile from my home. Paid well, too. The staff photojournalist job I was offered was 47 miles away and came with a hefty reduction in pay. I took it. If I didn't, when the opportunity presented, I wouldn't have had the experience I needed to get the job I have today.
Oct 2019 Mayo Clinic Assistant Professor Health Care Administration
July 2017 Mayo Clinic Arizoan Sustainability Officer
2017 BioCommunications Association, BioImages Citation of Merit
2017 BioCommunications Association, BioImages Fine Art Salon
2017 BioCommunications Association, BioImages Portraiture Salon
2017 BioCommunications Association, BioImages General Illustrative Salon
2014 Center for Innovation CoDE Grant – TeleVision
2012 White House Medical Unit – Certificate of Appreciation
2007 Associated Press, 1st Place Portrait/Personality
2007 Associated Press, Honorable Mention Feature
2007 Associated Press, Honorable Mention General News
2007 Associated Press, 3rd Place Sports Action
2007 Arizona Press Club, 1st Place Sports Action
2007 Arizona Press Club, 1st Place Portrait
2007 Arizona Press Club, 2nd Place Sports Action
2006 Associated Press, 3rd Place Pictorial
2006 Associated Press, 3rd Place Sports Action
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