Having shot several campaigns for hospitals and health care systems means Brett Nadal has seen his share of the medical sector’s practice and technology. We wanted to know more about what makes Brett’s background and capabilities so unique and well-suited for creating imagery in this category. Here is our examination.
You’ve said you are comfortable in hospitals and medical facilities, that it feels second nature to you. Why is that?
Hospitals and healthcare education were a part of growing up. For my entire life, both of my parents were professionals in some form or facet of healthcare. We had stacks of reading material about wound care and various — often graphic — surgical literature at home. It was also common during evenings for me to eavesdrop on my mother and father talking about hospital life’s ins-and-outs. One hilarious dynamic of growing up was seeing the horror on my friend’s faces the first time they would see, lurking in my father’s small home office, a gleaming, authentic, glass-encased human skull and a skeleton of a human hand — often used as paperweights. Looking back, my “normal” wasn’t the same as everyone else.
As a nursing supervisor, my mom always worked very closely with surgeons. She always subtly (and not so subtly) urged me to learn to become a surgeon. I was always creating art as a kid and she would constantly tell me that I would be a great surgeon because I had such steady hands. My mom and I, together, once created an incredibly detailed, hand-drawn, transparent mapping of every organ system in the human body. We were both very proud of it, but for comically different reasons. I obviously followed a different dream to become a professional artist. Healthcare became my first love that never was.
Humor aside, these times truly imbued me with a real understanding and appreciation for the type of people and real-life heroes within the healthcare spectrum. This understanding does away with the “mystery” of healthcare and helps me to portray a sense of belonging through my work. What makes a great doctor or a superior nurse? I have decades of input about these questions. To be comfortable with the subject matter and complexity of the people you’re portraying helps me focus on creating work that captures the approachability and acceptance of medical personnel essential to a healthcare client.
How has your background in the medical field helped you on-set?
Producing and capturing medical art can be quite complicated. It helps to have some understanding of the medical terms with which you’re storytelling. Sometimes you’re capturing subject matter that is more in the territory of “lifestyle” storytelling related to healthcare, which requires its own flavors. However, often you’re down to serious business in hospitals, clinics, and operating rooms. Details matter so much that nothing within a scene can go overlooked: Is the medical technology we’re using up to date? Should the talent be comfortable or slightly in pain? When propping an IV onto talent, is the location and angle of the IV is correct? What about the type of tubing? Is it proper? Is the style of taping legit? Would the talent be sat in a particular way? We consider those details to be simple.
Authenticity often comes through a little bit of education and a lot of productive discussions. It’s too easy to make glaring mistakes in a surgical or medical context, especially when your audience notices every detail through training.
Where does your photojournalism experience fit in within the context of a sterile medical environment?
There are endless types of people, and they’re all so perfect in their own ways. Communication is key to working with anyone. Your ethnicity, politics, gender identity, or sexual orientation matter greatly to you personally but are irrelevant when a viewer sees only kindness on a nurse’s face, for example. Real healthcare personnel can be quite brash. I expect that. I also predict talent playing a nurse for the first time might seem majorly lost on set. No matter who I’m working with, it can be very personal for them, and it’s important to allow talent to explore their role and guide them lovingly and positively along the way. If your talent are not professionals, you explore who they are and capture everything along the way. For my style, most genuine moments happen organically. In this place, I can capture tender, personal moments while still thinking about different angles from which to capture.
Usually, we’re capturing entire libraries of stills and motion, which can mean long periods on a production together. There is a lot of patience, kindness, and acceptance that goes into my style of direction. As a photojournalist, I would spend a lot of time with people who know almost nothing about me yet choose to reveal so much about themselves. It’s therapeutic for many people and incredibly enlightening for me. I take this experience to commercial productions and naturally create an environment where a sense of belonging and authentic storytelling begins to unfold.
You have always been resourceful and agile, viewing assignments as opportunities to be innovative. Can you cite examples of this taking place in any of the medical shoots represented here?
It’s very often we produce within an actual operating room or hospital. Sometimes, the circumstances can be that we’re working in a live hospital or, most recently, a hospital still under construction, made to appear to be running at full sail. I’ve captured surgery reenactments with real surgeons and surgical techs. Even then, you’re continually asking questions, making sure you’ve got details right, and doing what you can with light, angles, and expressions.
However, those circumstances can completely change when you don’t have the real thing in your toolkit. Often, we can have just “a room” in the hospital (usually empty). You must transform that room into an office, operating room, or exam room by borrowing the proper details from around the hospital itself.
There have been times when absolutely nothing is available to us. We once chose to transform a university cafeteria (for its architecture) into a chemotherapy infusion suite, importing every last detail we could to get the story right, as it would appear in a top-tier oncology clinic or hospital: proper arrangement, chairs, iv bags, and pumps. This strategy requires some of the best art departments and production artists in the country, with whom we will always proudly work. We always include a great medical consultant on our production, who’s ever-ready to answer a hail of challenging questions from people who are working fast.
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