“When I drive somewhere to photograph flowers, I get inspired by listening to Beethoven,” said Stuart Green, MD, a Los Angeles-based orthopaedic surgeon and avid photographer. “As I take photographs, I often wear headphones so I can continue to listen to the music.”
Beethoven’s influence on Dr. Green was incorporated in his recent photography exhibit, which was displayed from Aug. 11 to Sept. 18, 2012, at an art gallery in Santa Monica, Calif. The exhibition, “A Journey of Discovery,” showcased more than 70 images taken by Dr. Green. In a subtle nod to the great composer, the photographs were hung to reflect the soundwave patterns of the Ninth Symphony’s “Ode to Joy.”
According to Dr. Green, orthopaedics greatly influenced his personal journey of discovery. It was an experience at the 1982 AAOS Annual Meeting in Las Vegas that sent him on an exploration of color theory and led to the many stunning photographs in the exhibition.
Developing an eye for images
Dr. Green, whose father was an orthopaedic surgeon and photography enthusiast, used a darkroom in the family’s basement to develop photos as well as radiographs.
“My father taught me film and print processing when I was young,” said Dr. Green. “As a result, it’s difficult to find a photograph of me as a child without a camera in my hands. For example, in the first grade, we went on a field trip to the Statue of Liberty. I took a photo and made prints for everyone in the class.”
As a young man, Dr. Green opted to pursue a career in orthopaedics, but he never lost his love of photography.
“After I became an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in treating limb deformities, I realized that professional-looking before-and-after photographs would dramatize how much patients had improved,” noted Dr. Green. “So, I decided to create them. I established a studio background and lighting set up in my clinic with multiple flash heads and silver umbrellas. The portrait-like images made me a popular speaker at professional meetings.”
Dr. Green worked hard to make his lecture slides visually appealing, so he was shocked when a colorblind colleague complained during the AAOS Annual Meeting in 1982. The colleague was unable to read the slides, which had red letters on a green background.
“I thought that was really interesting,” said Dr. Green. “Red and green, which are complementary colors, would seem like the most vivid slides you could possibly make. But if you’re colorblind, both colors disappear. This made me realize that slides need more than just different colors—they also need different amounts of brightness. For example, a colorblind person can read slides that use yellow and purple, because they see light grey on dark grey.”
This epiphany, said Dr. Green, led him to embark on an investigation of color theory and human vision that he has continued for more than 30 years.
Dr. Green began studying the work of LIFE Magazine photographer Andreas Feininger, who wrote books about color and photographic technique.
“Feininger explained that, when you walk into a room, your eye darts around from object to object. As a photographer, you need to see the room as a whole,” said Dr. Green.
Feininger’s father, Lyonel Feininger, had an even bigger impact on Dr. Green’s work. The elder Feininger was the longest-serving teacher at the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany, which was founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius.
“The simplicity, harmonious color relations, and aesthetic principles developed at the Bauhaus School appealed to me, so I decided to incorporate them into my work,” said Dr. Green.
He studied “The Art of Color” by Bauhaus artist Johannes Ittens, as well as the work of Josef Albers, another Bauhaus artist who explored proportions and intrinsic color relations in his “Homage to the Square” series.
“I never had time to take an art class, because I travel so much,” said Dr. Green. “So I designed my own self-study program of color theory that focused on the principles of complementary and contrasting colors, chromas, and hues.
“I just imagined in my mind what an art teacher would have a student do for an assignment,” he continued. “I assumed they would say to take the Albers color combinations and see what you can find that fits these color schemes.”
As Dr. Green explained, Albers studied the influence one color has on an adjacent color.
“Albers experimented with these relationships in the more than 2,000 works in his ‘Homage to the Square’ series,” Dr. Green said. “When you see just one of his pieces, with three squares, one inside the other, you might think that any school child could have created it. But that one work was just a small piece of a lifelong effort to understand the adjacency effect.”
Dr. Green began to integrate these color concepts into his photography by creating combinations that match those created by the Bauhaus artists.
“For example, in my exhibit, I have photos of a yellow plum against purple plums and of red apples against green apples, to show the relationships between those colors,” he said.
From photographing fruit, he moved on to shooting everyday objects, such as orange traffic cones, and has taken many photographs that feature specific color combinations during visits to places such as Italy and Greece.
“A Journey of Discovery”
The 70 images in the exhibition are not those Dr. Green expected to display. His first group of images featured the Eiffel Tower and various other famous landmarks. But the gallery director wanted to exhibit the images he took during his “educational process.”
“I was shocked, considering that I kept those photographs in a folder called ‘Experiments,’” he said. “I considered those photos to be my student work, but she convinced me that people would want to understand my journey.”
Dr. Green decided to use Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to help tie the disparate images together.
“I wanted to have that music in the background, so I decided to hang my photos in a way that would make the song seem as though it were the exhibit’s soundtrack,” he said. “Of course, viewers don’t know the exhibit is laid out like a soundtrack until the very last panel, when they make that discovery.”
The photos in the exhibition are grouped according to color combination and are displayed next to Bauhaus concepts—such as Josef Albers’ squares—that inspired them. The groupings also include “edge masks”—photographic images in which the subjects are outlined in black in a manner similar to that employed by the French painter Paul Cezanne.
Visitors have responded very strongly to particular groups of photos.
“People comment the most about the yellow and blue group,” he said. “The subjects in those photos are varied—a train, a boat, a fire hydrant, a farm house—but they all have the identical yellow, blue, and grey that are in one of Josef Albers’ squares.” Dr. Green was particularly elated to watch one visitor explaining the concepts behind the photos to his companion.
“I could see by the way he was gesturing that he understood my exhibit,” said Dr. Green. “I found out he was an artist who had studied the Bauhaus School. That made my day.”
Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com
More about Dr. Green’s work
Dr. Green’s “Journey of Discovery” installation can be seen on his website (www.stuartgreenphotos.com) by clicking on the gallery “ADC Gallery Art Show Album,” which leads to subgalleries grouped by Bauhaus artists’ color combinations.
In addition, attendees of the 2013 AAOS Annual Meeting will see how Dr. Green applies color theory to his scientific exhibit (SE 41).