Anesthesiologist & Artist
Photographs by Alfred Feingold, M.D.
Text by Laura Stephenson Carter
An anesthesiologist is an insider in the operating suite, yet on the fringes of the surgical action. Combining that insider-onlooker view with innate artistic instincts, Dartmouth College graduate Alfred Feingold offers unusual insight into the world of surgery at DHMC.
"The operating room is a unique visual space, which engages the fascination of everyone who visits," says anesthesiologist Alfred Feingold, M.D. A 1962 graduate of Dartmouth College, he has been taking pictures in operating rooms for the past five years.
Feingold's interest in photography blossomed long ago. He was the photographer for his high school yearbook, and in college he was the photo editor of The Dartmouth, the student newspaper. But when he was in medical school at Tufts, a resident at the University of Chicago, and an anesthesiology fellow at Northwestern, he was too busy to take pictures. While he was working on a master's in biomedical engineering at Northwestern, however, he did pick up computer skills that would come in handy not only in his career in academic medicine, but later on when he once again picked up photography.
That's because he does more than just take pictures. Feingold captures an array of images with a digital camera and then uses Photoshop to combine and alter them, bringing forth an underlying message. It was Feingold's daughter, Helen, who got him into photography again. She is a highschool social worker, is very interested in art and photography, and is married to an artist. "She'd heard me talk about my life in the operating room so much over her childhood," Feingold recalls. "She suggested maybe I could try to capture some images of the operating room and describe this visual space to other people who were not familiar with it."
He has been influenced in his work by the renowned 20th-century medical illustrator Frank Netteroften referred to as medicine's Michelangelo whose artwork filled Feingold's medical textbooks. "I'm basically a visual learner," Feingold says. "I could learn more from pictures and diagrams than I could learn from words. I guess my artistic contribution is realizing that I could tell a story by overlaying images. By using Photoshop, you could overlay them and tell the story."
He hopes his images help patients, who often "feel extreme vulnerability, particularly when they're coming in for surgery." The more people understand the OR environment and its symbols and icons, Feingold believes, the easier it is for them. "You look for icons" in a hospital, he says, "just as you look to a church for its iconsfor its steeples, for its stained glass. You look to people and objects to give you courage," he says.
"The operating room is like a theater," he adds. "But the person for whom the show is being given is . . . scared. What I'm trying to do is show what an operating room theater looks and feels like."
Feingold has taken photos for several years at the two hospitals where he works in Miami, Fla. Jackson Memorial Hospital and Cedars Medical Center. One photograph is on exhibit at each hospital for a week at a time. Given their medical subject matter, he says, "I think these images would be stranger to the public if it weren't for TV. ER and other television shows have tried to bring the public into this visual space." But, he adds, "I think my pictures may capture some feelings that you can't see on television."
Feingold spent two days at Dartmouth this past fall, taking pictures in the DHMC operating rooms as well as throughout the Medical Center and on the Hanover campus. "I looked at the buildings, I looked at the windows," he explains, "at all different objects that would rise to the level of being a symbol or an icon to then overlay with the surgical environment."
He uses a 4-megapixel Canon G2 camera and then combines and manipulates the images with Photoshop 7.0 on a Gateway Desktop 700X computer. It takes him between two and four hours to complete a single finished image. See page 53 for an example of "before" and "after" manipulation. The italicized comments throughout the article are Feingold's observations on the images; they were adapted from an interview conducted shortly after he completed the compositions.
So is the artist an anesthesiologist or is the anesthesiologist an artist? In the end, it may not matter. "I've seen some amazing operations," Feingold says. "And I have some amazing pictures."
Feingold's art appears on the following pages.
Feingold is a 1962 graduate of Dartmouth College and an anesthesiologist in Miami, Fla. Carter is the associate editor of Dartmouth Medicine. She accompanied Feingold for two days last fall as he roamed the ORs of DHMC (with permission).