Cardiologist seeks new ways of seeing people – in photography

Dr. Joseph Gascho '68 with his photography, currently on display at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Penn State Health)

As a cardiologist, Joseph Gascho’s considerations at work go beyond the exterior of the human body – and the same is true in another of his pursuits: portrait photography.

“In hospitals, I want people to see that people are more than they appear to be on the surface,” Gascho said in a January article posted on the Penn State Medicine blog. “Patients are more than just patients, and doctors are more than just doctors.”

The 1968 Eastern Mennonite University graduate’s work is currently on display at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s Rotunda Café, chapel and Heart and Vascular Institute IO Silver Clinic. The collections feature images of support staff, doctors and patients.

One objective of this particular focus, Gascho says, is to emphasize the importance of each staff person’s role, an intent he  traces back to his father’s feelings of being a “second-class citizen” when he was a maintenance worker, the Penn State article states

The current Café display “features portraits of support staff dressed to the nines and holding a prop that represents their positions.” One that accompanies the article shows a man named Matthew Walker standing with a food services delivery cart that holds a single, bright red bucket.

Gascho, who has been taking photos since the 1960s (he took his favorite through a pair of binoculars in 1965 at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration), presented about his photography, poetry and work at EMU during the 2015 Homecoming weekend.

“What I hope for in my art is that people would see things in different ways – to see a patient differently or understand something about themselves, about medicine, healing, et cetera, in a different way,” he said that year. “When we see things in a different way, it’s kind of an ‘Aha!’ moment, an epiphany, and we can do things differently. We tend to make the most changes when we have those moments. That’s what I hope a photograph or a poem can be.”

The appreciation for people beyond their physical conditions is something that Gascho also attempts to convey in the humanities course he teaches to fourth-year medical students, who are taught to “critically explore and create visual imagery and integrate clinical knowledge and experience with humanities.”

For a new project that Gascho, is currently photographing operating room objects and writing “prose poems about the brain, heart and kidney,” the article states – “all things that can be looked at in ways not normally seen.”