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More than meets the eye

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Dr. Joseph Gascho stands in front of his support staff series of portraits at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

If there’s one thing Dr. Joseph Gascho wants you to do, it’s to open your eyes to new possibilities and really see things.

Gascho, a cardiologist with Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute, spends his time outside of the hospital behind a camera, taking photos of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center staff, doctors and patients.

View Dr. Gascho photos on this Flickr album.

“I want other people to see what I see,” he explained. “I’m interested in perceiving and seeing what’s going on, and photography is a way of doing that.

“In hospitals, I want people to see that people are more than they appear to be on the surface. Patients are more than just patients, and doctors are more than just doctors.”

That is evident in his work. Gascho’s photography has been featured both on and off campus. He currently has a series of photographs on display outside the Rotunda Café featuring Hershey Medical Center support staff, including a maintenance worker, a painter, a shuttle bus driver and more. He also has a permanent display of patient portraits outside the Medical Center chapel, as well as a series outside the Heart and Vascular Institute IO Silver Clinic highlighting doctors enjoying their hobbies outside of work. His goal is to show that these patients and doctors are more than just what they appear to be on the surface.

The photo series outside the cafeteria features portraits of support staff dressed to the nines and holding a prop that represents their positions. Gascho was inspired to create the series by his father, a maintenance worker for a college who earned 75 cents per hour.

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Matthew Walker, a Food Services worker, stands in front of a delivery cart.

“He always felt like a second-class citizen and that what he did wasn’t important,” he explained. “Because of that, I wanted to emphasize that everyone who works here at the Medical Center plays an important role.”

Gascho has been taking photos for a “long, long time” – since he was about 20 years old. His favorite photo was one he took at President Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration in 1965 through a pair of binoculars. He’s gotten more serious with his photography in the last 10 to 12 years, after his wife bought him a then state-of-the-art-digital Nikon camera. Now he has a studio in his home where he takes his portraits.

His office walls are wallpapered with photos he has taken from the many places he has traveled and the people he’s met along the way.

“What I’ve done has hugely impacted my life.”

Of course, Gascho’s 37-year medical career has hugely impacted the lives of others. That’s evident in his patient portraits as well as in his books of photography and poetry.

The photos reveal the interaction that words do not capture. This is something that he teaches his fourth-year medical students.

Gascho teaches a humanities course on words and images that enables students to critically explore and create visual imagery and integrate clinical knowledge and experience with humanities. Penn State College of Medicine was the first medical school in the United States to create a humanities department. It’s that belief in the importance of balancing the humanities with the nonscientific aspects of medicine that Gascho considers to be a “real strength” of the College.

For now, Gascho, has no plans to stop taking photos or writing poetry. He’s currently working on a photo project featuring objects in the operating room and prose poems about the brain, heart and kidney. For him, like the doctors, patients and support staff he photographs, these are all things that can be looked at in ways not normally seen.

“I just want people to get recognized for the work they do and have people open their eyes.”

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