Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017

© Dr Hans Berkhout

Dr John Ryan, psychiatrist, Calgary.

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Out of office

What do your colleagues do in their spare time? One Calgary FP decided to find out

Physicians have one of the most demanding professions around, often making it difficult to keep work and home life in balance, let alone take on a hobby. But extracurricular pursuits can recharge mind and body. For many physicians, they are more than a pastime, they are a passion.

No one knows that better than Dr Hans Berkhout, a retired family physician in Calgary. Photography has been his hobby since his teens. Shooting exclusively on film in black and white, he has been exploring the possibilities of his 4x5 view camera (a large-format camera that resembles something a 19th-century photographer might have used, with a black cloth draped over his head as he focusses) for nature photography, and his 35mm M series Leica on his travels.

He was first published in Doctor’s Review as an honourable mention in a photo contest in 1985, and has been a regular contributor to our Photo Finish section ever since.

Doctor’s Review asked Dr Berkhout about his latest project, titled Out of Office: Doctors at Leisure, a series of black-and-white portraits documenting colleagues in Calgary pursuing their hobbies, shot with a medium-format Pentax 67 camera.

Doctor's Review: How did you first become interested in photography?
Dr Hans Berkhout: My father was very much involved in photography, and he got me interested. I have been taking pictures, in black and white only, since I was 14. During my high school years, photography became a serious hobby. I documented council elections, after-school events like sports and drama, and I could make some money that way.

Large-format photography intrigued me after I found a copy of Camera & Lens by Ansel Adams in a used bookstore when I was 17. The clarity and tonality of the pictures in that book impressed me immediately. It took another 15 years until I could afford my own equipment, a Deardorff 4x5 Special camera, and I was lucky enough to find a colleague here in Calgary who mentored me — the late Dr Harry S. Thomson.

Eventually, I participated in photography workshops. I learned much from Paul Caponigro in the late ’70s, and later from John Sexton and Joe Englander.

DR: What do you feel that photography has given you?
HB: Over the years, my photography has helped me to escape from work-related pressures. It requires a lot of concentration, both in the field and in the darkroom — a complete distraction from my profession.

I am attracted by the entire process of making black-and-white photographs. I enjoy the straightforward simplicity of the equipment. Most of my concentration is on the potential photograph seen on the ground glass [upside down and backwards], under the dark focussing cloth. I tend to see better in black-and-white, and I derive pleasure from looking at a good gray scale, and controlling the tonalities of the print in the darkroom.

DR: What prompted the Out of Office: Doctors at Leisure project?
HB: Approaching retirement in 2009, I decided that I had to protect myself against isolation, after dealing with so many people on a daily basis. Also, on reflecting on my career, I realized how little I knew about colleagues with whom I had interacted for many years. The blending of these thoughts led to the desire to photograph colleagues, involved in their favorite leisure interest. The experience was very satisfying and I then asked my initial subjects if they could suggest other potential candidates. That’s how the project started; it’s all by word of mouth.

DR: What has it been like photographing colleagues?
HB: I start a session with a brief interview about their interest — if they have any heroes, what they get out of it — then ask them where they’d like to be photographed. Lighting and geometry may lead to some suggestions from my part; it’s all about natural light.

It’s amazing how accommodating my subjects have been. They are all busy with very little time to spare for family or themselves. Moreover, it is not very pleasant for most of us to be photographed, so I really appreciate their willingness to sit for me.

The variety of interests I’ve observed is incredible, and also the degree of accomplishment. Their level of involvement is usually very high. For some there are elements of an adrenaline rush or competitiveness, even aggression. And for others things are more relaxing in nature.

I’ll continue to expand the series in 2013, aiming for about 50 portraits in all and then maybe have a public showing of the most visually interesting 25 shots.

Dr Berkhout’s other photography work can be seen online at gelsilver.blogspot.ca.

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