Have camera, will travel

Pulmonologist finds more than animals on photo safari

When he’s not seeing patients in the Center for Advanced Medicine, pulmonary disease specialist Peter G. Tuteur, MD, enjoys “seeing” the world through a camera. In 2010, Tuteur, an associate professor of medicine, combined his dual passions of travel and photography during a two-week “master class” tour of Tanzania, led by photographer Stewart D. Halperin and Harvard University primatologist Richard W. Wrangham, PhD. The results of Tuteur’s experience — photos of landscapes both rural and urban, and their inhabitants — form a special exhibition in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center through March 24, 2011. Tuteur spoke recently about his journey:

Why Tanzania? “I’ve traveled on several photo shoots with Stewart. Forty years ago he and Richard, now one of the world’s foremost primatologists, spent two years in Gombe with Jane Goodall. To honor the 50th anniversary of Goodall’s arrival in Gombe, Stewart and Richard arranged a small-group photo safari. With Stewart's photographic skills and teaching ability and Richard's academic background, how could I refuse?”

Timing is everything “One of the principles of Stewart’s photography is that the most important ingredient for taking a good photograph is time. On the safari we were literally out in the field 14 hours a day. Much of our activity was designed to “get the photograph,” instead of the way one usually travels … 'Okay, we’re gonna see this building from 11:00 to 11:32, and if the light isn’t right the light isn’t right.'”

The schedule “Wake up in the morning, review the shots you took the day before, have some instruction, go out and shoot all day, repeat.”

Animal instinct “One of my concerns was that I did not perceive myself as an avid animal photographer. I wasn't satisfied with the picture postcards of animals, the straight “here is a lion in the wild.” I found a few photographs that I did like, either interaction among animals, an individual animal doing a particularly interesting thing, or a close-up or detail of the animal — a tail, coat or tongue. So I had a concept of what I was looking for with animals. Having said that, I didn't know if that was going to sustain me for two weeks, but it was the starting point."

African cultures "We started in the Serengeti, the most primitive, rural area, and eventually wound up in Zanzibar, bordering on a much more sophisticated urban environment. I was intrigued by the transitions. I also have an image of a native dancer wearing a variety of textiles: she had on a peau de soie (satin) top, but she still had the grass-based head garb. I saw the transition not only from one place to another, but within an individual. And yet there were commonalities, too, such as textile color. I have images of the Masai in their bright red capes; in Zanzibar I found contemporary textiles with that bright red color repeated. I found that interesting from a cultural standpoint."

Digital photography "The instant ability to review an image gives you the opportunity to modify it if you don’t like it. Prior to digital photography, you would bracket for exposure, do multiple images and a week or a month later see what you got; by that time, you’re thousands of miles away and can’t correct anything. In these workshops, the instructor is right there; he sees what you’re doing. You discuss and modify the image on the spot. That immediate gratification — or lack of gratification — is a great learning experience."

Viewers' responses "One of the most fun things is the post-installation interaction with the viewer. People see things that I never saw. What the viewer brings to the image determines to a great deal what the interpretation of that image is, the feelings generated by that image. The positive comments, of course, are the ones that are remembered, and they begin to validate what you are doing and to assign value."

Photography and medicine “I think there is overlap in the powers of observation. I think there is a symbiotic relationship between being a physician and seeing patients, looking, listening, and being a photographer; the skills of both disciplines are enhanced. I teach a selective course in which 10 medical students are taken to various art venues. The whole time is spent nurturing powers of observation.”

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