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More than meets the eye

DHMC photographer branches out

P.J. Saine is interested in how people see. Not only through physically healthy eyes, which he promotes in his work as an ophthalmic photographer, but through the lens provided by art and photography.


Stone face, Grover's Corners, N.H. (photo by P.J. Saine)

Saine is an instructor in ophthalmology and manager of ophthalmic photography at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). His job is to photograph all parts of the human eye so that physicians can more thoroughly follow eye patients and track the status of various eye disorders. From his work, Saine also creates art: digital ophthalmic "quilts" in which he combines an assortment of images of the human retina. His artwork has been widely displayed in galleries and museums throughout the United States. The Fundus Flag, a print of one such retinal quilt, is on display in the waiting room of DHMC's Ophthalmology Clinic.

In addition to photographing eyes in a clinical setting and creating art from these images, Saine also takes pictures of nature. One of the things Saine hopes to help people see is the role they play in the natural world. "We tend to polarize nature and humanity, but if you learn to see humanity in nature, then they're no longer opposites," Saine said. "Each is a reflection of the other."

Saine's search for humanity in nature is on display in his latest book, New Hampshire Rock Portraits, a photo essay compilation of New Hampshire's diverse rock formations. According to Saine, people have long been fascinated by the humanization of geology. Before photography, for example, artists would illustrate the Old Man of the Mountain on everything from postcards to posters.

Because this New Hampshire landmark, also known as the Great Stone Face, has resonated so widely and for so long in Yankee folklore, Saine decided to investigate other, lesser-known geological markers in hopes of finding yet another face. The result is New Hampshire Rock Portraits.

The book includes over four-dozen color photographs that, at first glance, just look like interesting rock formations. But there is more to the photos than initially meets the eye. "People who are visually-oriented will see faces right away," Saine said. "Non-visually-oriented people need some time, but by page 10 or so, they start to see faces."

One image reminds Saine of an old poker partner who was "rough, tough, and hard to bluff." Another, Saine points out, seems a comic version of Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream.

Working on New Hampshire Rock Portraits gave Saine a chance to further develop his photographic skills, but also served a simpler, site-specific goal: it afforded him the opportunity to explore New Hampshire and to record his observations of the state's varied geology.

"I needed to begin something that could bridge my work work and my personal, creative work," Saine said. "There's an interesting intersection between the worlds of art and science, and I've always had a foot in each."

New Hampshire Rock Portraits is published by Blue Plate Press and distributed by the University Press of New England. More of P.J. Saine's work can be seen online at www.pjsaine.com.

By NOAH TSKIKA '05

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Last Updated: 12/17/08