Art versus science at an online photography event

June 24, 2022

Astrophotography, holography, electron microscopy, image stacking, biomedical photography and photogrammetry are not your typical topics covered by photographers at presentations. Only a few have the expertise to speak authoritatively on these topics, and these specialists now meet for two days in July to share their knowledge with an online audience.

M16, a star cluster (NGC 6611) and the Eagle Nebula. Photo: David Malin, AAT.

The BioCommunications Association (BCA), an eclectic group of international science and medical photographers, will cover these topics and more at its online international symposium on July 20-21, 2022.

Photography-related speaker and workshop events are on the rise these days. There’s no shortage of professional photographers sharing technical and inspiring tutorials on photography fundamentals like studio lighting, editing, macro photography, landscapes, portraits, weddings, business structure, and more.

The same cannot be said of discussions of, say, forensic photography of a car accident, or holography and holograms, or microscopy that reveals the beauty of a turtle embryo. It’s fair to say that the BCA International Symposium dares to be different, and there’s some fascinating left-field stuff in there.

An image of a fluorescent turtle embryo by microscopy technician Teresa Zgoda and Teresa Kugler, who won a category in the 2019 Nikon Small World Photo Contest. The couple captured this image while taking part in the embryology class at the Marine biology laboratory. Creating this image was a unique challenge, largely due to sample size. Over an inch long and thick, it took time and precision to ensure that the entire subject was completely photographed. Additionally, the magnification used meant that only a small portion of the turtle could be imaged in the focal plane. The final image is a compilation of hundreds of images that had to be stacked and stitched together. Zgoda present at the BCA Symposium.

The program features 15 international speakers, including four Australians and two international RMIT alumni.

Some info on the BCA. It is a group of about 100 imaging professionals who operate in biological fields. Their expertise covers a niche but wide range of disciplines ranging from medical imaging, museum and specimen photography, to scientific specialties like astrophotography, photomicrography, etc.

Although symposium presenters are typically technical academic experts, discussions will be done in plain language to ensure attendees don’t feel like they’re stumbling upon an in-depth academic lecture riddled with scientific jargon.

“We want to share a technical photography experience with people who normally wouldn’t interface or be aware of it, but who might be interested,” said Gale Spring, BCA Symposium Program Chair, Forensic Photographer and RMIT professor. Interior Imaging. ‘It’s not deep. We are not going to delve into difficult math or physics to preach to converts. This is to raise the awareness of our members to anyone interested in imagery. We’re trying to capture the imagination of people who might say “I don’t know anything about holography, maybe I’ll tune in”.

Speakers from Australia include legendary astrophotographer, david malin, who will talk about his participation in pioneering astronomical photography; medical photographer Phred Petersen, whose talk focuses on Schlieren photography, a method used to observe natural, and often beautiful, fluid flow invisible to the naked eye; Royal Children’s Hospital 3D Medical Photographer, Robert Reitmaier, which will demonstrate how 3D imaging is used to assess treatment; and Imager from the Queensland Museum Collection, Geoff Thompsonwhich uses a camera focus stacking system to document small specimens at the museum.

Dorsal view of scales on the forewing, of a male Richmond Birdwing Butterfly, Ornithoptera richmondia. Photo: Geoff Thompson.

“In Australia, we play an important role in the BCA symposium,” Spring said. “Most of us at BCA are academically minded, but have a major interest in photography. For example, even though I don’t do professional portraiture or lighting, I want to hear others talk about it. So we hope this trickles down to other photographers, who might be drawn to something different.

There are “direct photography” presentations. Vancouver-based photographer, Jesse Andrewarthaan RMIT graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Photography, presents a series of analog film images from his exhibition, “transmutations: visualizing matter | Materialize the vision‘. It explores the history, legacy and radioactivity of 20th century uranium mining in North America. Captured over the course of three years using exclusively analog film, Andrewartha has traveled on several expeditions with hundreds of pounds of photographic equipment, from the subarctic regions of Canada to a quarter mile inside uranium mines Southern Utah landmarks.

Then there are slightly more original presentations, such as ‘Photographic transillumination techniques: multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma‘ by a medical photographer, Mary Jones. While it’s also “more direct photography,” Jones explains how she uses professional lighting and photography techniques to create a recording of a rare cystic tumor that helps clinicians better understand the disease.

“These are these types of people who have very interesting and broad talents,” Spring said. “These are things that people don’t see – they just don’t know.” And I can guarantee you that all speakers would be more than willing to respond to emails with questions from anyone. We’ve carefully selected people who excel in their chosen field, who are personable and eager to share.

Pre-Covid BCA members from around the world have traveled to meet for an annual in-person symposium, with the event including a series of “hugely popular” presentations. With international travel and dating now back on the cards, the BCA has decided to move the symposium online. This is to allow more members to attend and take the opportunity to showcase member domains to a wider audience.

“Most of these people are doing photography for scientific purposes, but have an artistic sense of what they are doing. And some of it is pure art – the kind you hang on the wall and philosophize about. Speakers include [artistic] aesthetic behind what they do. David Malin has been talking about it for over two decades – the art and science of astrophotography. He is truly an artist in his way of composing and creating star images. Holography – same thing. It’s a science, but most of us consider it an art form.

The BCA International Symposium takes place on weekdays and in a United States East Coast time zone. However, all sessions are recorded and can be viewed for two weeks after the event. Tickets are US$60 for non-members. Click here for more information.

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