Looking for depth-Leading patients into art
Though a large portion of Detroit-based photographer Monte Nagler's business is now healthcare-based, it wasn't always that way. For years, black-and-white fine-art photography was the primary drive of Monte Nagler Photography, and it wasn't until he looked to expand his business that the healthcare industry presented itself. “The fine-art photography was the main thing and it's still an important part of our business through galleries and agents,” Nagler explains. “But it was time to expand and we thought, ‘If the fine-art market slows up a little bit, it would make business sense to reach out in other areas.’ When we heard about the healthcare business, we thought ‘This could be really neat.’”
But it wasn't just the prospect of increased business that drew Nagler to the field. The understanding of what exactly the art is intended to do-help patients and family members cope with the emotional and physical stress of sickness and death-also played an important role in his investment in the practice. “The thought of my photography helping people get through a procedure or make it nice for the patient or their family was exciting to me,” he says.
To engage this new field, when Nagler goes to shoot an area, he always has it in the back of his mind to look for healthcare-relevant and -appropriate shots. “I'm getting in the frame of mind that I'm thinking healthcare when I'm traveling and photographing, which is kind of exciting for me because it's getting me to think in different directions now,” he says. “I think for healthcare, it's more scenic, about nature, shooting more color. When I started out, it was almost all black and white-when I would do exhibits, it was all black and white-but now, it's much more color. Healthcare really wants color. If I'm traveling to a particular spot, I might look to see if they have any neat gardens in the area. Garden pictures and florals are very suitable for that. I'm even shooting pictures of treetops, the sky, and clouds because sometimes the patient is lying on a procedure table and looking straight up, and some hospitals want it to feel like you're looking right up to the sky, through the trees.”
He warns, however, that simply shooting clouds and basic images is not ideal for the healthcare setting, something that some hospitals will actually request. The purpose of the imagery is to take the patient's mind off of his/her procedure and transport him/her to a different place. And as Nagler states, images of clouds offer very little in the way of immersion.
“We are concentrating on depth of field-the sharpness from front to back-and having objects that lead into the picture, called lead-in lines,” says Nagler. “I'm doing a lot of pathways and fences and roadways, things that will take the viewer's eye and lead them into the picture and hold their attention there. It helps people get lost in the picture. When they're lying on a table or sitting somewhere for a period of time, you want a picture with a lot to look at, that holds their attention. A lot of hospitals will want the sky-and-cloud pictures, and if they want them that's fine, but our recommendation is not to do that. Once you've seen clouds in the sky, you've seen it already. Two minutes later there's nothing new to look at. It doesn't hold their attention.”
It's that attention to detail and the various innovative ways Nagler presents his photography to hospitals-for example, printing images on windows, gallery wrapping large-scale photos, or printing them on jigsawed glass-that he hopes will help him in an increasingly competitive field. He notes that as hospitals strive for more business, one of the tools they use is the atmosphere and environment created by the artwork. “The competition between hospitals now is getting pretty strong,” says Nagler. “There's lots of advertising and obviously the hospitals want patients to go to their facility. Part of it is the environment and the impression people get when they walk into a hospital. People go there for a procedure and go home and say, ‘You should see this neat wall mural. It's so cool.’”
In the end though, it's the photography itself and the ability to help those patients in need that truly inspires Nagler. “What's neat about my photography is that I'm looking at the world through a camera, and it excites me to be able to capture an image and then share it with other people,” he says. “That's about the biggest high that I can get, that I can see something, interpret it in my way, and then share it with other people. Either fine art in the galleries or up on a wall in a hospital helping people, the satisfaction I get is a tremendous feeling.”
Healthcare Design 2010 May;10(5):118-119