Photographing the Human Side of Medical Technology
If you’re photographing stories about healing, you face a unique set of challenges—capturing the human spirit; compassion; and the brilliance of researchers, doctors, nurses, and patients, along with the the tech behind it all. Those faceless machines that do so much good for us don’t tend to reveal their purposes in a visual way. So how do you communicate the uses of a machine while preserving people’s experiences? We talked to Lydie Naneix, chairman of the scientific and medical photography agency BSIP, for the inside scoop on how to tell human stories with high-tech subjects through photography.
“We do two kinds of stories,” says Lydie, “those that show new technologies that are the future of medicine and those that explain the daily practice of modern medicine for common illnesses that require hospitalization.”
Just getting access to the subject matter is a painstaking process. Lydie and her team reach out directly to doctors, then get permission from the hospital as well as the patients — this prep can take months.
Once she’s on location to shoot a procedure, it’s all about working with the doctor to capture the right moments. “The surgeon guides the photographer and warns when something important is going to happen. Doctors often teach at universities, so they are pedagogues. They like to explain their work because they love what they do, they are passionate.”
Beyond catching the right moment, it also takes skill to create a relatable point of view. “In the case of exams and treatments that require sophisticated medical equipment,” says Lydie, “we like to allow viewers to put themselves into the doctor’s or surgeon’s shoes, or even the patient’s.” This means creating an atmosphere and an aesthetic that shows the points where humans and technology connect. Lydie adds, “We are interested in the gestures, the handling of screens, tools, and instruments in real medical spaces.”
There’s also a balancing act when it comes to photographing surgery or injury. Lydie and her team must tread carefully. “Medical images shouldn’t shock health professionals or the general public. With surgical procedures, we reduce the sight of blood and focus on the medical professional’s job.”
Another big hurdle in photographing medical tech is getting access to the latest developments. “The photos that present the greatest challenge are those relating to new technologies such as robots, assistant robots, and the uses of artificial intelligence. It’s challenging to find the hospitals, doctors, and patients who are ready to communicate about these advances right away.”
But even as medical technology develops at a breakneck pace, the people continue to matter most. As Lydie explains, “The human element is behind all technology, even more so since the technologies we photograph are in the service of humans. We try to illustrate this. While we specialize in medicine, our goal is to illustrate the collaboration between the doctors, researchers, and technicians who develop new tools with which to treat us.”