Behind the black and white
The relationship between a community and a healthcare institution can span lifetimes and bring people together. Such was the collaboration between Doylestown Hospital in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the James A. Michener Art Museum to bring the public together for the anniversary of the founding of Doylestown Hospital. Using photography, the idea was to capture the core of the care and healing that takes place at Doylestown Hospital-in the restricted areas. Ed Eckstein, a photographer who began his career as a photojournalist, was commissioned to do the project.
The photography, showing the human emotion behind a caregiver assisting a patient or a family member watching over their loved one, evokes the compassion and care that is the atmosphere of Doylestown Hospital. From surgeons to nurse aides, Eckstein's work gives insight into a world that is sometimes so hurried and chaotic yet touches each patient to comfort, heal, or bring to life. From the 4,000 frames shot, 39 were used for the exhibition at the Michener Museum entitled “Healing Images, Healing Arts: 75 years of Care at Doylestown Hospital.” These are now on permanent display at Doylestown Hospital.
As years passed, the thought was conceived to distribute a book of the photographs titled Bricks & Mortals: A Hospital Observed, published by Ecksray Press, as a reminder and visual testament of the healing environment that has been and is still a part of the Doylestown Hospital mission.
“Working in a documentary or in a photojournalistic mode is the only way that I feel they can truly show healthcare made visible. I guess I'll call the approach ‘creative loitering’ and that's having senses primed for that moment that you're looking for,” says Eckstein.
The photography, shot in black and white, creates a stark image yet emotion, reality, and concern color the photos in their own way. “Black and white was chosen for both aesthetic and technical criteria. From an aesthetic point of view because I feel that black and white is the color of photography. It enables the viewer to see the emotional content of a photograph,” Eckstein says. “You really tend to depict the essence of surgery, whereas in color it would be a distraction for the most part.”
“From a technical point, the prints, which I made in the darkroom, the traditional darkroom prints, those are called black and white silver prints, meaning they are completely archival, so from a point of view of being light-fast and for exhibit purposes, they have a higher air-to-light lifespan.” Archival framing was used for the photographs at the museum.
Eckstein notes, “I had a room in the hospital. What stood out to me was that unlike healthcare that's made for TV, a real life hospital is not as neatly packaged. Some nights in the ER I would take maybe five frames of film and other nights I wouldn't even take the camera away from my eyes, there'd be so much going on. It was a whole different way of working.”
The photography is an intimate portrayal of the moments that the public, family, or sometimes patient does not get to see. In order to capture such personal and private moments in the operating rooms, patient rooms, during births or along the hallways, Eckstein was issued a hospital ID and scrub suits. “The hospital provided me basically with womb-to-tomb access but the provision was that all patients had to sign releases,” says Eckstein. The hospital also provided Eckstein with a college intern to follow behind and ensure that all releases are signed for each patient or family member. All hospital employees were informed about the project so that they would not be startled or angered by the presence of Eckstein and his cameras. “No one actually refused to sign any releases so the patients were terrific,” says Eckstein. “I spoke with every person I photographed for this project, explaining and also thanking them for allowing me to photograph them in probably not the most flattering of situations.”
Eckstein notes, “Many patients as well as medical personnel came to see the exhibit and brought their families and their kids to see them because it is permanently at the hospital. A lot of people will go back for follow up. It's really a nice community hospital.”
For further information, contact Ed Eckstein at 610.258.8030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Healthcare Design 2010 June;10(6):62-63