BCA News: Winter 2020
Connie Johansen, RBP, FBCA
What is or has been your primary line of work?
Medical and forensic photography, until 1999 when I started working in the intelligence community as a photographer.
What got you inspired to be a photographer and illustrator? Tell us about your career path.
Years ago, I was a lab assistant in a large hospital. I had to go to surgery to deliver blood one day and saw a photographer in the OR. I asked him what he was doing and he was kind enough to tell me all about the field of medical photography and show me the med photo department. So, I have Chris Sherman to thank for introducing me to medical photography. I knew I wanted to work in health care, but not as a nurse. I always loved taking pictures so it seemed like a good fit. Chris told me where to go to school, so I did, at Bellevue Community College Biomedical Photography program. I graduated in 1982.
Describe your typical work day?
Since I have basically had two career paths, at the hospital I would often find myself in the OR, or in the morgue. I worked at Providence Health System and we had a pathology residency program. I photographed autopsies and specimens and taught photomicrography to our pathology residents. I also did lots of public relations work and we even did a major ad campaign with outdoor ads (billboards), print ads and television spots. Previously I had worked at Swedish Hospital with Chris Sherman and Dan Hallett, as well as at Virginia Mason Clinic and Everett General Hospital. I worked in forensics for a couple of years and covered major crimes, evidence photography and lab work. For the intelligence community I was the lead photographer for the Command Element at the Pentagon. I was promoted to a multimedia specialist supervisor and wanted to learn more about design and animation so I went back to school and earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Visual Communications/ Digital Design and Interactive Media, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2010. I am now retired and doing volunteer work at our local marine science center, photographing marine animals and doing photomicrography of phytoplankton.
What is most rewarding about your work?
Helping people and participating in science, whether it's in a health care environment, law enforcement, or helping our warfighters to stay safe is my passion. I was fortunate to work on a great variety of important projects for the intelligence community and photographed many heads of state and decision makers. Now I am trying to do my part in conservation of the Salish Sea by participating in monitoring the health of the animals and the Sea.
Where do you find creative inspiration when work begins to feel routine? What motivates you to continue in your line of work?
If I get bored, I will find something that I want to learn or something I can contribute to. Being able to use my skills and education in health care, forensics, intelligence and now in marine science is very rewarding. I am kind of tenacious when faced with a problem.
Do you have any tips or special techniques for connecting with your subject?
When photographing people, I try and talk to the patient to make them comfortable. I talk them through the process and make sure they feel comfortable before proceeding. For portraits, I think the eyes tell it all so I try and engage the subject so we can form a small connection. Sometimes it was difficult in the military environment because soldiers and officers are taught to be stern and not smile, so I tried to show their personality in the eyes. One Vice Admiral even used the portrait I did of him for many years, and insisted that it was used in the official oil painting of him when he retired.
What technology/software/gear do you use?
I use Nikon DSLRs and Photoshop as well as Illustrator, InDesign and other Adobe products. Recently at the aquarium I have been using a blue light with a wavelength of 455 nanometers, and a barrier filter on the lens to photograph marine animals in tanks.
Are people skills as important as technical skills in your line of work?
Yes, we have to get along with all types of people, from physicians, patients, and military personnel, and now, with other volunteers and marine biologists. I think we should accept people the way they are and not judge. Everyone has something positive to bring to the table.
Do you have special interests outside of work? Do you enjoy photography/illustration outside of work?
Yes, any volunteer work that involves photography. I also volunteer at an Equine Rescue center and make quilts as a hobby. When I get brave enough I would like to try street photography. I am active in the BCA, currently serving as the Director of Communications. I was the first female president in 2001 and served another term as president from 2015-2017. I was active in the Pacific Northwest Chapter for many years, serving as President, and we hosted BIOCOMM 1992 in Portland, Oregon. I am hoping to get some of our chapter members together for meetings or photography adventures now that I am retired and living back in the Northwest.
Do you have any advice for photographers/illustrators interested in a career in biomedical/life sciences photography?
Think outside the box. Jobs are few and far between, but look at other places that use photography. The skills we have as medical and scientific photographers can apply to anything, even satellite imagery. You should also learn as much as you can besides photography, web design, graphic design, web development, interactive development, whatever you are interested in. The more diverse you are the easier it is to find meaningful employment.
Award of Excellence, Pleuroceras spinatum: Jurassic Period; BioImages 2019
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2016
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2014
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2013
Department of Defense Joint Meritorious Unit Award/Exceptionally Meritorious Service, 2013
National Director of Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation, 2011
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2011
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2011
NGA Exceptional Support to Mission Award, 2011
NGA Exceptional Performance Award for Exceptional Awareness & Knowledge, 2010
NGA Exceptional Performance Award, 2009
NGA Special Act Award, 2008
NGA Acquisition Teamwork Award, 2005, 2006
NIMA Special Achievement Award for Support to Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003
NIMA Cash Award, 2003
DIA Teamwork Award, 2002
DIA Cash Award 2000, 2001, 2002
DIA Certificate of Commendation, 2001
DIA Special Service Award 2001
DIA Special Achievement Award 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
Recipient of personal letter of Appreciation from VADM Wilson, Director DIA and cash award 2001
Recipient of NIST "Coin" from J2 and the Directors "Coin" from VADM Wilson, 2000
Washington Press Association, 1988 "Challenge of Excellence" Award
Biological Photographic Association: 1990 First Place Photomicrography Award
Biological Photographic Association: 1991 Honorable Mention, Video Production
Biological Photographic Association: 1991 Honorable Mention, Photomicrography
Biological Photographic Association: 1995 1st Place Photomicrography, 2nd Place Specimen
Letter of Commendation: King County Sheriff, 1998
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