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Behind the Lens from Dermatology World Magazine Feb 2019

Each month, Dermatology World addresses issues “in practice” for dermatologists. This month Dermatology World talks with Alan Gardner, MD, about his success as a fine art photographer and how he applies ‘the art of seeing’ to his work as a dermatologist.

“Art goes right along with dermatology. The face is like a landscape. You have hills and valleys. There are ways of composing photos to make them consistent and aesthetically appealing, and I use the same approach with my cosmetic practice.” ~ Dr. Alan Gardner

Picking up photography was a natural fit for a dermatologist, says Alan Gardner, MD, of Marietta, Georgia. “I like beauty; I like seeing things,” he explains. “It’s what I call ‘the art of seeing.’ When I come up with a composition, I’m looking at colors, textures, patterns, leading lines — things that will take you from one part of the photograph to another.” The same concept, he says, is easily applied to dermatology. “Art goes right along with dermatology. The face is like a landscape. You have hills and valleys. There are various ways of composing photos to make them consistent and aesthetically appealing, and I use the same approach with my cosmetic practice. Using the basic rules of photography adds to my ability to create and bring out the natural beauty of my patients without giving them an overworked, unnatural look.”

Dr. Gardner with members of his staff
Dr. Gardner with members of his staff

As a self-taught photographer with more than a decade of experience, Dr. Gardner’s artistic practice has crossed over with his clinical work in more ways than one. “I started hanging my work in the office, because one, you know, it makes it pretty, but having them in the office makes patients more relaxed. They enjoy seeing the art and talking with me about it,” he says. “It’s taking us beyond just a doctor and someone who is coming in because they’re sick — we talk about their concerns from a dermatologic point of view, but when we talk about photography, it develops a more personal relationship.”

Patients are so fond of Dr. Gardner’s work, in fact, that there were some complaints following a temporary absence of artwork during an office remodel. “The first few months we didn’t have anything on our walls, and the patients were judging,” recalls Dr. Gardner. “‘Where are your photos? You better hurry up. I didn’t come here for nothing!’ It was kind of funny, so we started putting them up again. It’s been a really fun experience, which is what I want. I don’t want a stuffy office.”

Capturing the perfect photo

As any professional or amateur photographer knows, capturing the perfect image goes far beyond a simple point-and-shoot. Ratios, lighting, and color all must be considered, and one’s technical equipment is only as good as their knowledge of how to use it. “I focus strongly on composition so people will take time to look and study the pictures,” says Dr. Gardner of his style.

Dr. Gardner’s at-home printing studio has also allowed him further creative control over this artistic process. “I do all the printing myself on a largeformat printer, which has made me very meticulous about how I shoot things,” he says. “I’ll print on various mediums such as fine art canvas, and museum-quality papers such as Hahnemuhle Baryta.

Dr. Gardner’s photography on exhibit at his practice
Dr. Gardner’s photography on exhibit at his practice

On canvas, I can get a very rich, painterly-like effect, which sometimes I’ll do to give it more a dreamy kind of look.”

Primarily shooting with just two cameras, a Nikon D800 and a Phase One 100MP medium format, Dr. Gardner has a clear favorite in the latter. “It has a larger sensor and more megapixels, so the color, depth, and resolution I can get is absolutely incredible,” he says. Despite the strength of his lenses, Dr. Gardner is no stranger to marathon editing sessions in Photoshop to get the perfect final product. “I spend hours per picture working them up,” he divulges. “Photoshop gives me tremendous control when editing my photographs. I’m able to create whatever mood or emotion I want the viewer to feel.”

Having had the opportunity to shoot photos all over the world, among some of Dr. Gardner’s favorite subjects are natural landscapes and wildlife photography. “I enjoy getting into Cypress lakes, especially when the fall colors come, because you get these beautiful reflections that make it almost like a piece of abstract art when you see it,” he says. These nature studies have earned some high accolades over the years — coveted recognition by National Geographic as one of the top photos of the year in 2009, and two recent gold medals in the PX3 (Prix de la Photographie, Paris), one of Europe’s largest photo competitions, for a series of high-detail white egret portraits. When not submitting his work for competition, Dr. Gardner has also shown his work professionally across the United States. “I’ve been in a couple galleries here in Atlanta,” he says. “I was also featured in an exhibition last year at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.”

The art of giving back

This past year, Dr. Gardner recently took his photography a step further, holding an auction of his work at his practice to raise funds for the Skin Cancer Foundation. Inspired by patient interest in purchasing prints of his photography, he saw an opportunity to give back to a good cause. “Occasionally patients will ask if they can purchase a photo, and I thought, why don’t we have a big art exhibit, and donate the proceeds?” After several months of planning, the practice was temporarily converted for one Saturday into a pop-up gallery. “We had food, tables, a lady playing a harp, an ice sculpture,” says Dr. Gardner. “It was really fun, and a nice opportunity for patients to purchase a piece of art and at the same time make a donation that’s going to help other people.” Overall the event was a success, with several hundred attendees. “It was such a nice way to spend the afternoon. It makes things more personal. I want patients to feel like they’re family.”

BY EMILY MARGOSIAN, ASSISTANT EDITOR



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