A Broadway performer. An accomplished pianist. A dedicated marathoner. A third-degree black belt. An award-winning filmmaker. A water-skier with all the right moves. A high-flying fighter pilot physician. Doctors from across the state open up about their off-script origin stories and lives outside the office.
Dr. Janice Oliveri
Internal medicine, assistant professor of medicine at UConn Health
As challenging as the past year has been for countless people including health care workers, it’s also brought some things into clearer focus. For Dr. Janice Oliveri, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UConn Health, one of those things is that she and other health care professionals need something that allows them to destress, to recharge and to refocus.
In Oliveri’s case, that comes in the form of photography. “I really get so much out of it, and that just continues to grow photograph to photograph, year after year,” she says. “One of the things I love most is that there are so many incredible details and levels of beauty in everything, really, but especially in nature, that I’d miss unless I was concentrating on it, really looking, focusing on just that subject, that moment, that photograph.”
Because she chooses to operate her camera manually rather than rely on any automatic features, getting the composition, framing and lighting and selecting the right shutter speed, aperture and other settings requires a great deal of concentration. “So of course, when I’m concentrating on all that, I naturally escape from thinking about the stress of my job and any other of life’s challenges,” Oliveri says. “It’s something that’s very specific and technical, but also very freeing and creative. I really do get lost in taking a photo.”
Her love for photography actually grew out of her love for science. She got her first microscope at age 7, and immediately got hooked at looking at nature and other things in such detail. In college at Vassar, she took an electron-microscopy course that required also taking pictures of the specimens and developing the photographs herself. “That’s when a lot of the things I love came together — microscopy, science, medicine, nature and now this new interest, photography,” Oliveri recalls. “Something inside me just lit up.”
She had no extra time or money to pursue photography in medical school and her residency years, but soon after that, she bought a good camera and began taking her photography hobby seriously.
“Just as in medicine we are always learning and always striving to be better at all that we do, that’s the case with photography,” she says. “You build on what you’ve learned, but it’s also a lifelong learning process, which I’m attracted to.”
She took a few photography classes over the years, but is largely self-taught. “I learned from an early class years ago that you’re not really photographing objects,” she says. “You’re photographing light. That’s something I think about with each photo I take.”
Her favorite subject is nature, flowers up close or interesting compositions she spots in the wild, which also adds to the attraction of photography. In order to get good photos, she has to get outside more, usually with her husband, Jeffrey, who graciously volunteers to lug around her camera equipment. She shoots with a digital SLR Canon 70D, and several lenses, her favorite being the macro lens for those super closeups.
Oliveri opts not to use Photoshop or any other editing software, but does try to create abstract images as she’s shooting. “I wish I could paint or draw, but I can’t,” she says. “Creating a beautiful image from what I can capture with a camera is the closest I can come to making art.”
Her photographs are mostly for herself, although she often gifts them to family and friends. A selection of her photographs were exhibited in the Celeste Lewitt Gallery at UConn Health in 2018.
Oliveri says she thinks medicine and photography have some key things in common, and her hobby has helped her be a better physician and vice versa. “As physicians, we are trained to be observant, and that’s also such an integral part of taking great photos,” she says. “And photography has definitely taught me about patience. I’m not playing with words here, but it’s incredibly important to have patience with patients. Health care and medicine can be extremely busy and even hectic at times. As health care professionals, we need to know how to slow things down, to not rush things, to really focus on that moment. That applies to my work as a physician and what I do in photography.”