"At first I tried a leaf, just to figure out the correct exposure. I grabbed one from a tree in the yard outside the x-ray department, and put it on the mammography machine," recalled Ms. Matthews, who has been working as a radiologic technologist for more than 30 years.
The use of medical imaging to create stunning works of art has long been appreciated. Floral radiographs appear to date back to the 1930s, when little-known photographer and Los Angeles physician Dain L. Tasker, D.O., (1872-1964) exposed the inner workings of lilies, irises and open lotuses onto x-ray film to create beautiful silver print images. ASRT member Bill Conklin, R.T.(R), used radiography to produce unique prints of sea shells and beach treasures. His work has been on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
Ms. Matthews' interest in floral radiography blossomed after viewing an exhibit at Cypress College in Southern California, where she had been taking photography classes in her spare time for the past few years. She always enjoyed taking pictures and wanted to learn how to take better ones. "The more I learned, the more I found out I wanted to know more," she said.
In 2004 her photography instructor, award-winning artist Jerry Burchfield, asked his students to come up with an interesting semester project. For decades Ms. Matthews had taken radiographs of the human body. Now, she was going to put her knowledge of medical imaging to work in a more creative manner. She decided her semester project would involve radiographs of flowers. Luckily for Ms. Matthews, her supervisor offered her access to the radiography equipment.
"It was easy to take the x-rays of the flowers. How to print them, now that was a little tricky," she said. "I finally figured it out, and I made a bunch of black-and-white ones. I really liked them."
To create her art, she uses fresh flowers. She places a single flower, stem and all, artistically on the large Bucky tray. She admits her first attempts were trial and error. She recruited another mammographer to help her move each flower "this way or that" to obtain the best position.
Once happy with the flower's placement, she removes the compression panel and directs a very low dose of radiation onto the flower. Ms. Matthews develops the x-ray film the same way she would a mammogram or other radiographic image.
With x-ray films in hand, she proceeds to her school's darkroom, where she creates the final image, the same way a photographer develops a picture. And, voila! A black-and-white floral radiograph is born.
But with a personality as vibrant as the most brilliant blossom, it should be no surprise that Ms. Matthews craved a little color. She asked Mr. Burchfield what would happen if she printed the floral radiographs onto colored paper. "Not much," he replied. But he did offer a suggestion--use colored gels when exposing the images to light. So, she placed a colored gel between the light source of the enlarger and the paper, and performed the initial exposure. The paper then was placed in the developer for one minute. While in the developer, she exposed the film to light once again, using a different colored gel.
"The end result was a big surprise. Each time I changed color, I would get a different effect. But I was so fascinated that, in the beginning, I did not keep notes on how I did it. I try to keep notes now," she adds with a laugh.
What's a basic rule of thumb when in a photography darkroom? Don't open the door. But doing just that helped Ms. Matthews obtain an elusive color and one of her all-time favorite prints, "Flower from Ed," in memory of a flower given to her by her son.
"One day I couldn't get green. Then someone accidentally opened the door, and after a brief moment of panic, suddenly I realized I had green," she recounted.
The exposure of a film or print to light halfway through the development process is called the Sabattier effect, named after French scientist Armand Sabattier, who discovered that this type of exposure during a print's development led to a solarization-like result once processing was complete.
"Opening the door works really well," Ms. Matthews said. To the best of her knowledge, she believes she is the only radiographer currently creating colored solarizations of floral radiographs.
Ms. Matthews chose a career in radiography, she said, because she didn't want a desk job. She performs mammography and diagnostic radiography, and enjoys both. "It has been a rewarding career," admitted Ms. Matthews. "I like it because you take a picture, and the results are instantaneous. Once you develop the film you have a good picture that could help the doctor or patient."
In exchange for access to the mammography machine that she uses to create her masterful works of art, Ms. Matthews has given her employer, Kaiser Permanente in Garden Grove, Calif., some floral radiographs to display in the mammography room. The prints are more than just pretty pictures; they offer a unique lesson in how mammography can be used to see inside the breast.
"The patients can see the detail quality that I get on a flower, and this helps them better understand how mammography provides a detailed picture of the breast," said Ms. Matthews.
When asked what her favorite flower to image might be, Ms. Matthews hesitated. "They are all unique," she said. "But the roses are doing quite well." Among her favorite prints are "Three Flowers in Color" and "Rita's Flower," which depicts a blue passion flower. Her instructor, Mr. Burchfield, admired "Red Magnolia." That image is now part of the All Media Show at the Irvine Fine Arts Center in Irvine, Calif. The show is an annual exhibition open to artists in the area.
Her work has caught the eyes of others, as well. Her black-and-white floral radiographs have been displayed at Cypress College, and she received Best of Show for amateur photography at the Orange County, Calif., fair in 2006. "It was the best amateur picture of the whole entire show," recalled Ms. Matthews. "I was quite honored." The fair bought her artwork.
For a recent contemporary photography class, she tried a new direction and took radiographs of sea shells. "The shells were solid and not as delicate as the flowers. I liked the flowers better," Ms. Matthews admitted.
For now, Ms. Matthews enjoys photography as a hobby. But she has dreamed of turning this unique leisure pursuit into a career.
"My original goal was to retire and make money as a photographer. But you really have to work very hard or be very famous to make money at it," she laughed. "Yet, I do enjoy it very much.".
If you are interested in purchasing Ms. Matthews' art, she can be reached at email@example.com.
By Kelli Miller Stacy, Contributing Writer
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|Title Annotation:||profile; Matthews, Fran, a radiologist and an artist|
|Author:||Stacy, Kelli Miller|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2007|
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