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  • What We’re Doing Today: Eye on Photographer — Jeff S. Maltzman, MD

    Jeff S. Maltzman, MD, completed his residency at the Baylor College of Medicine/Cullen Eye Institute, and then followed with a glaucoma fellowship at the Tufts-New England Eye Center in Boston.

    See a slide show of Dr. Maltzman's photos.

    Dr. Maltzman then joined a small, private group practice in Tucson, Ariz., which has grown from four to eight providers. He has been involved in organized ophthalmology focusing on physician advocacy, serving on the Academy’s OPHTHPAC® and State Governmental Affairs committees, most recently completing a term as chair of OPHTHPAC in 2021.

    Dr. Maltzman has also been an Arizona Ophthalmological Society board member and past president. He currently holds clinical faculty appointments at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, the A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine and Midwestern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

    Last year in Chicago, Dr. Maltzman presented during the Senior Ophthalmologists Special Program on artistic photography with landscapes. He just blew everyone away. I was so impressed that I had to prevail on him for an interview as part of What We’re Doing Today, our series that looks at our colleagues’ avocations.

    Alfredo A. Sadun, MD, PhD: Jeff, how and when did you become interested in photography?

    Jeff S. Maltzman, MD: I’ve had artistic proclivities from a young age, enjoying sketching and drawing throughout my childhood. I also loved nature and wildlife and was fortunate to live near a wooded area which offered plenty of space to explore and discover, the forest scenes and animals that I encountered often serving as subjects for my drawings. I had limited exposure to photography in my youth, though I do recall being intrigued by images of the American West made by well-known artists like Ansel Adams and Josef Muench, works that first stirred my interest in photography as an artform.

    I didn’t pick up a camera, however, until my ophthalmology residency. But at the time I wasn’t creative enough to identify suitable subjects around Houston. Furthermore, with a busy resident’s schedule, the cycle of shooting, developing the film, reviewing the images and getting back out to shoot again wasn’t very conducive to learning. By 2009, I had been living in Tucson for about seven years and was simply astounded by the endless beauty and tremendously varied landscapes of the area. Digital photography was beginning to rival film, so I decided that it was time to give it another try. I bought my first digital camera, a Canon 40D, and have been hooked ever since.

    Dr. Sadun: How did you learn and evolve?

    Dr. Maltzman: While standing with my shiny new camera at one of my kids’ school events, I was approached by another parent who started questioning me about the camera and photography. Admitting immediately that I had little idea what I was doing, he relayed that he was an experienced amateur photographer and offered an introductory class for novices like me. I accepted, took his short course and was now further hooked. With fervor, I sought out information about both the technical and artistic aspects of my new hobby. I read countless books, studied online resources, and evaluated the work of other photographers. I occasionally contacted artists whose work I admired, some of whom graciously provided advice and critiques.

    In the autumn 2010, I attended my first photo workshop shooting fall colors in Sedona, Ariz. The professional photographer who led the event was very complimentary of the images I was making, providing me a tremendous boost of confidence and enthusiasm. I’ve been fortunate to have developed friendships with numerous talented amateur and professional photographers over the years, all of whom influence my work and my growth as an artist.

    Dr. Sadun: Do you collect photographs/albums as well?

    Dr. Maltzman: I have a slowly growing collection of books of photographers’ work, including Ansel Adams, Josef and David Muench, Eliot Porter, Gregory Heisler, Charlie Waite, Thomas Mangelsen and numerous others. I enjoy these both for the simple beauty of the images and the inspiration they provide as well as for their value as educational devices. I have collected a handful of prints over the years, mostly from photographers that I know personally.

    Dr. Sadun: How are you inspired to do a landscape?

    Dr. Maltzman: I think that, for any visual artist, the inspiration to create comes from both external and internal sources. National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson purportedly said, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” But I’ve found the reality to be more nuanced. I photograph for different reasons. I’ve been fortunate and honored to have my work published in Arizona Highways magazine for the last seven years. The magazine’s 100-year-old mission is to promote tourism in Arizona.

    When photographing for the magazine or with the intention of submitting images for publication, I approach the process with a specific goal and mindset. I know the style of images that the editors like, so I search for the types of scenes that are likely to be pleasing to them. Time of day often matters, as the direction and quality of light varies as the sun moves across the sky. These photographs, while necessarily aesthetically pleasing, are somewhat documentary in nature. On the other hand, I often shoot purely for my own enjoyment, creating images that reflect how I feel, and how I interpret the landscape. In this scenario, I’ve discovered that internal influences weigh heavily. My mood strongly influences how I perceive a location and impacts the images that I create. I’ve stood in astoundingly majestic places and been unable to produce a photograph that has meaning to me or adequately expresses the beauty of the location.

    Dr. Sadun: Do you experiment with different approaches?

    Dr. Maltzman: I’ve experimented with different types of photography and various techniques over the years. As I’ve noted elsewhere, my style is moving toward what can be described as more “intimate landscapes.” However, I still like to infuse a bit of variety into what I do; it keeps life interesting! I occasionally enjoy night photography, including shooting the Milky Way or star trails over interesting locations. During the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 while my practice was closed and travel was limited, I spent a bit of time photographing close-up “portraits” of cactus flowers using a technique known as focus stacking, in which numerous images are made by focusing on different parts of the subject and then combining all the shots together using sophisticated software. The result is a flower sharply focused throughout and isolated from an out-of-focus background. I’ve also played a bit with another technique known simply as “intentional camera movement” which combines slower shutter speeds with movement of the camera while the exposure is being made, resulting in beautifully abstract images.

    Dr. Sadun: Do you, like many painters, go through phases of style?

    Dr. Maltzman: When I first started, I tended to copy the styles of other photographers whose work I admired. However, as Oscar Wilde famously said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” At some point, an artist must use the inspiration drawn from others’ work to develop a style of their own. As I’ve grown as a photographer, I’ve come to favor photographing in locations that are less frequented by others.

    National parks and monuments are wonderful and iconic scenes are considered so for good reason. But amazing beauty can be found almost anywhere, and I prefer to camp, hike and photograph solo away from others and immersed in nature. My photography time is also my personal relaxing time, to refresh and reset. My style of photography continues to evolve, and I am moving toward being less reactive and more contemplative, focusing on more intimate landscapes. This term was coined by Eliot Porter and describes smaller scenes within the greater landscape. Such images often lack the “wow” factor of grand, expansive scenes with brilliant skies, but are meant to tell a simpler story or serve as metaphor.

    Dr. Sadun: What is your favorite camera/lens?

    Dr. Maltzman: As an ophthalmologist, I have an innate love of useful technology, and modern digital cameras are amazingly intricate, computer-controlled tools. While the creativity and skill of the photographer are far more important than the specific camera used, these modern devices offer tremendous features that simplify and smooth the process of making images. If money were no object, I would love to have a high-end, medium format digital system such as the Phase One XT, which offers unparalleled image quality and flexibility.

    On the other hand, I’ve been quite impressed by the quality of images produced by my iPhone 13. There’s a saying in photography, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And we all have our phones with us all the time, making them a spectacular tool to document our experiences. I have produced some lovely images on my phone. However, for most of my work I currently use the Canon R5 system along with several RF [a new Canon mount] and adapted EF [older Canon] lenses. I primarily shoot with a 24- to 70-millimeter lens, though as I’ve shifted to shooting more intimate scenes, I find myself using a 100- to 500-mm lens quite often. This longer lens allows me to isolate small details even at great distances.

    Dr. Sadun: What are some of the things you have learned about your subjects (terrain, nature, light) that came from photographing them?

    Dr. Maltzman: At its essence, photography is all about illumination. It is, quite literally, the art of drawing with light. A thorough understanding of visible light — its quality, color temperature, directionality, interaction with the atmosphere — is vital to becoming a competent photographer. Light changes throughout the day, across the seasons, and around the globe. My photographic pursuits have dramatically improved my appreciation of the light cycle, the movements of the sun and the moon and how it impacts the landscape. This has not only positively influenced my photography, but also my simple appreciation of the beauty and elegance of our natural world. On a broader level, my photographic journey has, without a doubt, fortified my already strong connection with nature and wild spaces and has literally changed the way that I see and experience everything.

    Dr. Sadun: What connection have you found between ophthalmology and photography?

    Dr. Maltzman: Photography has always struck me as a perfect artistic outlet for the ophthalmologist. Our knowledge of optics is a tremendous benefit, allowing a more detailed and nuanced understanding of light and how it interacts with lenses and surfaces. Likewise, a familiarity with photographic principles has given me an even greater appreciation for the eye’s incredible elegance of form and function. Photography is an art that has always depended upon technology, and I think it’s fair to say that many of us pursued ophthalmology as a profession partly due to the varied and evolving technologies. The making of a good photograph requires attention to detail and the ability to make numerous decisions simultaneously, skills that most ophthalmologists possess. Photography allows us to engage both our technical and creative brain in a way that few other pursuits offer.

    I firmly believe that each of us can benefit greatly by having an avocation, some pursuit outside of medicine that fulfills, energizes, and restores us. Though we ophthalmologists have the privilege to work in a spectacular profession that provides great intellectual stimulation and the reward of truly improving our patients’ lives, we all need a means to manage the stresses that a career in medicine brings. Humans have an innate desire to create and to share experiences, and art can serve as a valuable conduit for such expression. I’m aware of many of our colleagues’ artistic pursuits, including photography, painting, sculpting, mixed-media creation, music composition and/or performance, map making, etc. I encourage anyone in need of diversion to pick up a camera, a paintbrush, a musical instrument and create something. And reach out to your colleagues with experience in that endeavor, as I know that they would love to offer support and guidance.

    Photo Gallery