AHSC Photographer Captures 'Deep Space Reflection'
"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still," said Dorothea Lange, the American documentary photographer known for the photographs she took during the Great Depression.
An "instant out of time" captured by Mark Thaler, a senior staff photographer who has been with AHSC BioCommunications for 24 years, is the winner of the 2013 Kenneth J. Ryan Visual Arts Award, presented for the best visual arts submission to Harmony, the annual visual arts and literary journal published by the Program in Medical Humanities at the UA College of Medicine. The announcement was made at the launch of the 2013 issue on Oct. 3.
"Mark's photo embodies exactly what medical humanities teaches: 'deep space reflection.' A space where the practitioner can remove him or herself to return to a place of humanity," says Dr. Ron Grant, director of the Program in Medical Humanities. Harmony features essays, short stories, poetry, visual art and photography, many by AHSC students, faculty, staff and patients. This year, entries were received from all over the world.
Thaler's winning photograph, titled "Deep Space Reflections," was one of about 80 photos submitted for consideration for publication in Harmony. Only about half were chosen.
The image is a perfect illustration of an instant held still: the black and white photo captures cottonwood trees in autumn with every detail precisely mirrored in a motionless San Pedro River, a rare occurrence for the stream that flows northward from Mexico through southern Arizona more than 100 miles before joining the Gila River. Thaler chanced upon the scene during one of his many hikes through the San Pedro Valley area. "I've been going there for years, and it changes every year. I never caught a composition like this one before," he says. "I was in the right place at the right time."
The title Thaler chose for the photo is explained in the text that accompanies it in Harmony magazine. Thaler "believes that a strong ethic in ecology preservation and conservation enhances the 'transpersonal journeys' behind creative photography. His creative passions explore and cultivate deeper perceptions: authenticities that illuminate intrinsic natures and kinship, which often escape casual observation. In his photography the 'dance of light' often reveals symmetries in the natural world bringing insight and exposing rhythms of grace, harmony and endurance."
Photography initially was a hobby for Thaler that began when he was a child with a simple plastic camera, documenting his Boy Scout camping trips at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in eastern Long Island and his family's trips to the Adirondack Mountains in New York.
These early experiences instilled in him a love for the environment that encompasses not only photographing landscapes as he enjoys their peace and quiet but also caring for it. He has volunteered with Sky Island Alliance on conservation projects in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. He is a member of Tucson Organic Gardeners. One of his hobbies also includes sea kayaking, which he enjoys as a member of the Southern Arizona Paddlers Club, a group that encourages sound environmental practices to protect waterways while having fun. Club members also volunteer annually on a cleanup of Patagonia Lake State Park.
Thaler has lived in the Southwest for 40 years, after coming to Arizona to attend the UA in the 1970s. "I remember a photo taken of me when I was about 6 months old wearing a cowboy hat, so I guess it was meant to be," he recalls. He transferred to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he graduated with a degree in anthropology. His early jobs involved photography and eventually his hobby became his living.
He preferred living in Tucson, however, and an opening for a photographer in AHSC BioCommunications brought him back. The types of photography he does for his job has changed over the years. "Initially, we did a lot of scientific documentation, surgical procedures, pathology, more clinical photography," he says. "Now we cover more events and do portraits and group shots."
Several of Thaler's photos taken at AHSC events have been chosen for such national publications as the Journal for Minority Medical Students and the AAMC Reporter, the Association of American Medical Colleges' flagship news publication.
When one of Thaler's photos taken at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson 2012 Match Day event was one of only four selected out of 500 submitted for the AAMC Reporter's April 2012 issue, Jeb Zirato, chief medical photographer with AHSC BioCommunications, remarked in a memo to the staff, "It is not often that we photographers get recognition for some of the small photo shoots we do day in and day out. Kudos to Mark, as it's never easy to be in the right place at the right time, let alone putting together all the elements that make a good photo, during the chaos of Match Day! It's no surprise to me, though, as I see something special from Mark every time he goes out on assignment … the recognition is the welcome surprise!"
In his spare time, Thaler rarely is without a camera. Photos he has taken during his outdoor treks also have appeared in national publications. He has had photos published in Arizona Highways magazine, and several of the Arizona Highways calendars, including the 2013 calendar, which features one of his photos for the month of September. A Smithsonian guide about the Southwest includes a photo he took of bighorn sheep in Aravaipa Canyon in southeastern Arizona.
Many of Thaler's photos of Southwest landscapes are reminiscent of famed American photographers Ansel Adams (co-founder of the UA Center for Creative Photography) and Edward Weston, who are among the photographers whose work Thaler admires. He recalls hearing Adams give a lecture in UA Centennial Hall and he helped print Weston's 8-by-10 transparencies for storage in the center's archives.
Thaler's science background has come in handy in both his work and his hobby. "Photography is a tool to see the world more in depth; it increases awareness of the world around you. One of my favorite quotes is by Aart van der Leeuw: 'The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced,'" he says. "Photography, and all the arts, makes us better at discerning metaphoric relationships. It makes visual the spirit – the nature – of the interconnections among people, objects and places."
Harmony magazine is available for $7.95, which includes shipping and handling, through the Program in Medical Humanities website, http://humanities.medicine.arizona.edu. For more information, send an email to email@example.com.