When urological surgeon Jacek Mostwin first came to us as a workshop participant back in 1990, he knew that he would improve his photography. At the time, he used his camera to record details of operations and surgical procedures. What he didn’t know was that those early workshops would eventually lead him to see his patients and medical colleagues in an entirely new light, and transform the way he practices medicine.
Mostwin began taking photography workshops as a way to creatively express and understand the complex emotions that are an inevitable component of caring for patients. Over the course of a decade, he built a foundation of photographic skills that allowed him to capture moments of fragile vulnerability and tender compassion. Eventually he learned to use those seeing skills without a camera. “I learned to be a participant and an observer at the same time,” says Mostwin. “When I’m just working, without a camera, I’m aware of the dynamics and the choreography of the scene. It’s an unusual experience, and has made me very sensitive to subtle moments of expression and communication with others. It has also made me appreciate my colleagues in medicine and nursing all the more. When they work well, they’re doing something really beautiful for other people.”
Seeking to add even greater depth to his work, Mostwin joined our MFA program. Expecting to concentrate exclusively on images, he soon discovered that even deeper connections were waiting to be revealed. “I learned a great deal about the creative process—understanding it, nurturing it, listening to it. I learned to be patient, and I learned the differences between inspiration, craftsmanship, vision, and discipline,” says Mostwin. “Halfway through the program, I began writing about the photographs, and discovered a wonderful synergy between word and image. All of us have loved stories since we were children. It is a fundamental structure of how we think and transmit values that are really important to us.”
After receiving his MFA degree in 2004, Mostwin sought to share his insight with others. He currently teaches The Human Side of Medicine here at Maine Media, a workshop for photographers, filmmakers, and health care professionals interested in seeing medicine and illness from a more personal perspective. He will also be presenting at The Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa this spring, a forum for educators that brings together writing, the humanities, and the art of medicine. For Mostwin, this interdisciplinary and emotional exploration has value to all professionals. “No matter what kind of work you do, tapping into this primary curiosity about the life of another is a great skill to be able to cultivate.”