September

First-year medical student Isaac Spears passes by images from the “Color Our Walls” student photography exhibit in the School of Medicine.
First-year medical student Isaac Spears passes by images from the “Color Our Walls” student photography exhibit in the School of Medicine.
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They’ve been framed: Medical students expose artistic side

Published on Monday, September 13, 2021

By: Gary Pettus, gpettus@umc.edu

Of all the probing instruments, devices or tools Wilson Benton will use to help him make it through medical school, one of the most important doesn’t pulse, jab, slice or percuss.

It’s a camera.

“There’s nothing farther away from studying a textbook than getting up early and hiking a trail,” said Benton, a third-year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, “thinking about how to get this one image, and then capturing it with your camera.”

Wilson-Benton.jpg
Benton

Many of the vistas Benton has captured are now sprinkled throughout the Medical Education Building; they are among the framed photographs he and several of his School of Medicine classmates submitted for show.

Titled “Color Our Walls,” the display suggests that many who value the art of healing also appreciate the healing power of art – for the artist, as well as for the viewer – and value the process of creation as a restorative act in lives of stress and challenging demands.

“It’s a retreat from everything else in life,” Benton said. “It’s like therapy.”

The idea to celebrate the creative side of medical students arose more or less simultaneously in the brains of third-year medical student Alex Fratesi of Leland and Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams, professor of emergency medicine and vice dean for medical education.

“Dr. Jackson and I both wanted to find a way for people to continue doing things that offer them an outlet from their studies, things that aren’t medical,” Fratesi said.

Dr. Loretta Jackson, vice dean for medical education, and third-year medical student Mary "Alex" Fratesi, who headed the committee that chose the photos for the exhibit, “Color Our Walls,” take a break near the Medical Education Building coffee shop, where some of the images are displayed. Twelve photos are hanging throughout the ground level of the building.
Dr. Loretta Jackson, vice dean for medical education, and third-year medical student Mary "Alex" Fratesi, who headed the committee that chose the photos for the exhibit, “Color Our Walls,” take a break near the Medical Education Building coffee shop, where some of the images are displayed. Twelve photos are hanging throughout the ground level of the building.

For many, that avenue is their own artwork or photography. That many medical students, not to mention physicians, enjoy expressing a creative side visually is not news to Fratesi, a pen-and-ink artist and student leader for “Color Our Walls.”

“I believe medicine itself is an art,” she said. “People who go into medicine love the human form; we love working with our hands. We love being a part of making things better, making the world a little bit better.

“Sometimes, outside of medicine, the only outlet we have for doing that is art and music.”

Fratesi’s vision for a photo exhibition merged with one Jackson-Williams has held for a while: a School of Medicine program she had been planning and which she dubbed “The ART of Healing.”

It called for collecting art works, primarily from Mississippi artists, to hang in the Medical Education Building. For several reasons, that idea had to be put aside.

Loretta Jackson-Williams.jpg
Jackson-Williams

“Instead, I went to the medical students and we put together a Student Art Committee,” Jackson-Williams said. “Its first project would feature photos by the students themselves. They have incredible talent.

“Folks who come to medical school are very bright; often, they channel themselves in multiple ways; they can’t help it. Expressing themselves by creating art is one of those ways.”

For “Color Our Walls,” members of all four medical school classes offered nearly 60 submissions to the student committee, whose dozen or so members, including Fratesi, trimmed the number to about 10 for exhibit. The compositions embrace landscapes, cityscapes, a church’s stained-glass windows, the joyful eyes of a child on a swing.

The medical school class of 2021 donated the money to buy the frames for the photographs, which in school’s ground floor, some by the coffee shop and some in the student lounge.

“I had already seen some of these students’ works before,” Fratesi said, “and for the people I already knew, it was really cool to see how their personalities come out in their photography. I am impressed with how they captured everyday things – the way they took them, framed them and edited them.

“They look fantastic.”

One of the most striking photos is Benton’s not-so-everyday shot of a silhouetted man leaping on top of a derelict plane which looks like its nose has been chewed off. That aircraft belonged to the U.S. Navy; that man belongs to Benton’s family tree.

“All my road trips are with him. He’s my brother, Jackson Benton,” said Wilson Benton, whose photographer’s eye is drawn mostly to landscapes.

First-year medical student Jayla Mondy studies in the student lounge where part of the "Color Our Walls" student photography exhibit hangs in the School of Medicine.
First-year medical student Jayla Mondy studies in the student lounge where part of the "Color Our Walls" student photography exhibit hangs in the School of Medicine.

“He’s in a lot of my photos. He’s really good at standing still,” he joked, “and also at jumping up at the right time.”

The Benton brothers collaborated on the black-and-white scene while visiting a barren field in Iceland. On that same trip, in 2018, Wilson Benton manipulated a drone to bag an overhead portrait of a glacier – one of the shots available for viewing on his website, www.wilsonbenton.com.

Benton, who shoots weddings and senior portraits for income, got his first camera when he was 13, but he has never taken a photography class, he said.

“I just read a lot.” One of the first things he read was an elderly but relevant “L.L. Bean Guide to Outdoor Photography,” which he picked up years ago, probably in a second-hand store.

“The first thing I read was about mastering the rule of thirds [don’t center your subject], leading lines, all the things that make an image stand out,” Benton said.

On his desk he also keeps an Ansel Adams book, and names among his favorite shooters the nature/adventure photographers Travis Burke and Chris Burkard.

“Landscape photography is what I have an eye for,” he said. “Something that looks good blown up across an entire wall. I like capturing a moment that others didn’t get to experience. You can push a button, freeze it and go back in time to that exact moment.

“I don’t keep a journal, but with every one of my pictures I can remember exactly what I was doing, where I was standing, everything at that time. It keeps that memory alive for me.”

For her part, Jackson-Williams wants to keep the visual arts project alive. “In the future, we hope to feature paintings and drawings as well – oils, charcoal,” she said. “And I plan to include works by faculty someday.”

As an artist, Fratesi “would be very proud to have my work up one day,” she said. “But, if not, I’m just happy to be involved in getting other people to do this.”

As for Benton, having his photos showcased alongside his peers’ has emboldened him to keep doing what he planned to keep doing anyway.

“I’m trying to get a permit to visit a cave in Alabama – Stephens Gap,” he said. “I already know the shot I want.”

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Hannah McCowan

Photo by Hannah McCowan

Photo by Lizzy Wicks

Photo by Lizzy Wicks

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Hasna Khandekar

Photo by Hasna Khandekar

Photo by Sarah Miller

Photo by Sarah Miller

Photo by Tate Crosby

Photo by Tate Crosby

Photo by Lizzy Wicks

Photo by Lizzy Wicks

Photo by Hasna Khandekar

Photo by Hasna Khandekar

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Wilson Benton

Photo by Wilson Benton
Photo by Hannah McCowan
Photo by Lizzy Wicks
Photo by Wilson Benton
Photo by Hasna Khandekar
Photo by Sarah Miller
Photo by Tate Crosby
Photo by Lizzy Wicks
Photo by Hasna Khandekar
Photo by Wilson Benton