Mark Ayzenberg, MD (Photo by Wes Hilton)
A glittering sunset over Boathouse Row, so bright that you might be tempted to shade your eyes. Center City Philadelphia, enwreathed in darkening clouds.
These outsized images, printed on thin sheets of metal, seem three-dimensional, many as if they’d been painted, but they’re all photographs—and they all started out in the mind’s eye of Einstein Healthcare Network orthopedic surgery resident Mark Ayzenberg, MD.
In a way, you could also say that they came about by accident.
A couple of years ago, Dr. Ayzenberg’s father gave him his camera to sell for him on eBay. While waiting for a sale, he held onto it, and after coming off night shift wandered about the city shooting photos. “They turned out better than I thought,” he says. “I put them up for sale on Craig’s List just to see what would happen.”
What happened, much to his surprise, was that they sold.
What started out as an unplanned hobby became a passion. Before long, Dr. Ayzenberg started doing gallery shows. He kept on selling his work. Recently, he sold a series of Philadelphia cityscapes that now grace one of the halls in Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia’s Levy Building. The photos described above are just two of six.
Make no mistake—medicine is Mark Ayzenberg’s life’s work. “Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor,” says Dr. Ayzenberg, who came to Einstein in 2013. “It stuck with me through college. I realized medicine is what makes me the happiest. Orthopedics is just too rewarding in regard to patients getting better and it's a fun environment to work in.”
Still, photography now is a regular part of his lfe, sending him near and far in search of the perfect sunrises and sunsets, encouraging adventurous ways of spending vacation weeks.
No one is more surprised than he is.
Born in Russia, he and his family moved to the U.S. in 1990, when he was 3. Both his parents are doctors of music—his mother, a piano teacher; his father, a violinist. That the musical arts would be part of his life was never in doubt. His main instrument is guitar, but he also plays piano, bass, drums, and lately a bit of ukulele.
Given his busy schedule and demanding hours as a resident, the city of Philadelphia became Dr. Ayzenberg’s first subject. He would come off shift and head out into the streets, camera in hand—looking not so much for something that had never been photographed before, but for new ways of looking at old places.
Perfect sunrises and sunsets intrigued him, from the shards of light piercing the Center City skyline at dawn to the rose-colored rays washing over Boathouse Row at dusk. He learned to bring out the rough beauty in subjects as diverse as construction scaffolding, abandoned railroad viaducts, and crumbling smokestacks. He became curious about what it would be like to look at familiar landmarks from unusual angles—like the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, one of his favorite subjects, focusing on the piers directly underneath the bridge deck.
It’s the technical tricks he learned to do afterward—after he had shot a day’s or night’s worth of photos, after he had transferred them to his computer—that came to distinguish Dr. Ayzenberg’s photography.
“Some people are kind of curious. They think that one shot is all it is, and all it should be,” he says. “But I merge multiple shots together. Then I highlight colors. Some look more like paintings, and some less like paintings. I never actually add anything to them—I just enhance them. I try to bring out the parts of the scene that to me are most appealing.”
It can take a lot of time and work to find just what he’s looking for. Like many photographers, Dr. Ayzenberg is picky. “I may take 500 shots and wind up using just five of them.”
Although Dr. Ayzenberg has printed his pictures on paper, wood and acrylic, “I’ve been doing most of my stuff on metal because it looks the best, the most modern, it doesn’t require a frame, and it’s cheaper and easier to hang.”
His corporate clients, he says, particularly favor this approach, which produces durable, larger-than-life prints that tend to stand out in big spaces. That includes Einstein. “Most people order at least a two- by three-foot print from me. The hallways at Einstein, I think, are the perfect size for that.”
Craig J. Sieving, vice president of facilities management at Einstein, first heard about Dr. Ayzenberg’s work after he had donated one of his photographs for use in the Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Intensive Care Unit waiting room.
“When I went up to see the photo for the first time, a family member of a patient was in the waiting room,” says Sieving. “She told me how uplifting the photo was and how it was helping her cope with the news of her family member being cared for in the ICU.”
Sieving, like so many, found himself drawn to Dr. Ayzenberg’s photos, particularly his images of Philadelphia landmarks. “The detail and perspective that he achieves in his work is stunning,” says Sieving. “The images that I ultimately selected highlight a lot of local Philadelphia architecture and landmarks, but also bring nature into the image. You are able to see something in Philly that you have seen multiple times, but in a way that you have never seen them before.”
That Dr. Ayzenberg also happened to be a member of the Einstein “family” was also a plus. “I felt that all of Einstein could take pride in the images,” says Sieving, “knowing that a member of the family was responsible for creating them.”
The response to the photos, he says, has been enthusiastic. “The first day we put the artwork up, you could barely pass through the corridor as everyone was stopping to admire it and commenting on the images.”
As attached as he is to cityscapes, Dr. Ayzenberg’s horizons have expanded dramatically to encompass landscapes from a wide variety of places. He says he now takes more “adventure” trips than “relax” trips, lugging two backpacks full of gear. Not long ago, he took a trip out West to visit seven national parks over a week. “I would be up for every sunrise and sunset.”
Though he looks forward to more opportunities to shoot landscapes, cities still hold a good deal of allure. After one recent end of shift, for example, he headed to New York City to take in the sights—albeit from his own particular point of view. “I spent 24 hours walking around the city taking photos,” he says. “It gets hectic, but it’s fun in the end.”
More about Dr. Ayzenberg’s photography here: http://www.phillyphotoart.com/
Samples of Dr. Ayzenberg's work below: