The Sacred World of Medicine Through A Photographer’s Careful Lens

  • Brian Ferguson
  • October 16, 2020

Photographer Paula Eve has devoted her life to the art of quietly capturing the human narrative with her camera. She uses her gift of highlighting moments of unique humanity to bring cultures, organizations, and teams to life. Paula’s work in medicine focuses on the caregivers and professionals who are the corps of any medical environment, and the impact of their work together.

Your art has deep roots with medicine. Can you talk about your interest?

I have always been fascinated by medicine and how the body is created. There is a delicate balance, and a responsibility, in creating art out of someone else’s situation. It’s a sacred space. I approach it with deep respect with intentions to honor everyone in the room.

You joined Arena Labs in some of our early service work on Ethos at MedStar. Can you talk about what you did and what it was like?

I started by spending time observing; just getting to know individuals and their stories. Hearing their stories helped me paint a bigger picture: the woman that has been there for 28 years, sanitizing the OR after every surgery. The Anesthesiologist in her 80’s who has worked there for 50 years overseeing three generations of residents. The man who comes in at 9 pm everyday to unbox and shelve the delivery so it is ready for surgery the next day.

These individuals perform their role expertly, yet rarely do they remark on that. Each role matters so much, and if not done and with excellence it affects the case the next day.

My goal is in telling their story as I see it: showing them how they are all a part of something much bigger that is intricately connected.

When we recreated the Arena Labs website, I was deep in your work, while also interacting with stock imagery of surgical teams. It was such a stark contrast.

I want my images to be real, honest and raw. Accuracy is important to me: the emotion of the moment. I hope that when others look at the images they, too, feel something. I try very hard to become invisible myself: embedding myself in the environment that I am shooting. I hardly ever get good images the first or even the second day, it is when they are used to me being around that those images capture reality.

Let’s look at a couple of your pictures together. Can you talk about this one?

Yes. There has always been this mystery in what happens in an OR. Seeing it play out in front of me was riveting.  Everyone is moving in sync; it’s like the OR becomes a dance.  Words are not necessarily needed. Here we have the surgeon, in the forefront, and the surgical nurse working in sync to adjust the lighting for the surgery. So much of what happens is in synchronization, in tandem.

Ok, now you choose one that was particularly memorable for you.

This image is one of my favorites: a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists and perfusionists.  What struck me was the focus they all had on the same object.   They were performing a surgery that had only been done 37 times. The atmosphere in that room was of working together to teach, be taught, and be in awe at the advancing technologies and skills.

Did the experience influence your photography?

Yes, as with every project, I am always learning and desiring to bring even more into my images.  Every setting is different and adapting to new projects is necessary. The one thing that never changes for me is the desire to show people that they matter, that they are seen and that what they bring to their team is equally important as the person standing next to them.

How have you come to understand what performance is?

For me personally: doing my job to the best of my abilities, not just carrying out a task or finishing a project. Going above and beyond what is expected and to bring about the most accurate story I can tell with my lens.

So it came together in a large gallery? Like, you turned the OR into a gallery?

Yes, I curated a 70+ canvas gallery for the perioperative department. It lines the hallways that they walk everyday. What I found particularly rewarding was the response from the staff.  When I arrived everyone was under an assumption I was there to capture the surgeons and the staff that supported them; this was their experience from prior photographers. When the galleries went up, they saw themselves, all roles represented.

The gallery is a tangible reminder of the Ethos that they are living out everyday: Pride, Purpose and Performance.

Paula Eve’s images of surgical teams are featured throughout the Arena Labs website. Gratitude, Paula.