From lab to lens: Professor's photography show benefits Doctors Without Borders

By Maria M. Lameiras | Emory Report | Feb. 13, 2015

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Don Stein’s show at Artists Atelier, “Brilliance: Light, Line and Color,” features digitally manipulated photographs inspired by automobiles and automobile-related themes.

Throughout Don Stein’s career in psychobiology and neuroscience, he has always had to pay attention to the tiniest details with precision and clarity, but it is his ability to see things outside traditional perspectives that has been his hallmark.

Now Stein, Asa G. Candler Professor and Distinguished Professor in Emergency Medicine at Emory, is exhibiting his distinctive point of view through an exhibition of his abstract digital photography at the Artists Atelier Gallery and Studios in Atlanta. All proceeds from the show will be donated, both by Stein and the gallery, to benefit the international medical emergency organization Doctors Without Borders.

“I enjoy nature and taking pictures of all the natural beauty that there is out there, but abstract work began to catch my attention as a way to get away from precision,” he says. “As a scientist doing brain research, you have to be worried about exact details every moment of the day. The last thing you want is a hobby where you are reproducing things exactly as they are.”

In the Brain Research Lab at Emory, Stein leads a group examining how different kinds of brain injuries can be repaired at the structural and functional levels. His early findings on sex differences in recovery from brain injury led to decades of research on neurosteroids in central nervous system injury. His laboratory now studies the actions of progesterone and its metabolites in pediatric, adult and aged models of traumatic brain injury and stroke.

Photography has long been a personal avocation for Stein, beginning with the family snapshots he took with his Kodak Brownie camera growing up in the Bronx, New York City. Stein’s mother, Betty, yearned to be a professional pianist and jazz singer before she married his father, Frank, a successful window dresser. Both of his brothers pursued creative careers, so an artistic nature is not a surprise for the family’s scientific black sheep.

Stein’s show at Artists Atelier, “Brilliance: Light, Line, and Color,” features digitally manipulated photographs inspired by automobiles and automobile-related themes. Ellen Stein is a member of the 15-artist co-operative that runs the Artists Atelier gallery. Also a personal friend of Don Stein, she encouraged him to have a show of his photography at the gallery.

“I considered it, then I thought that it would be a really great way to do this as a benefit with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders,” Don Stein says. The gallery also has agreed to donate its proceeds to the organization.

Although he has not worked for Doctors Without Borders, Stein says his travels to other countries have highlighted the stark contrast between Western medicine and the health care available in countries devastated by war, disasters or poverty. Doctors Without Borders sends medical teams to address critical medical and humanitarian issues that range from basic vaccination campaigns and maternal and pediatric care to easing the suffering of people caught in acute crises.

The group’s West Africa Ebola response started in March 2014 and includes activities in Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone. Doctors Without Borders currently operates eight Ebola case-management centers, providing approximately 650 beds in isolation, and two transit centers. Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has admitted more than 8,100 patients, among whom around 4,960 were confirmed as having Ebola. More than 2,300 patients have survived. The group also has shipped more than 1,400 tons of supplies to the affected countries since it began its response. 

“I admire the courage and fortitude of those selfless doctors who dedicate themselves to that organization,” Stein says.

Stein’s exhibit runs through Feb. 28 at Artists Atelier, located at 800 Miami Circle, Suite 200, in Atlanta. A reception will be held from noon until 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, with Stein giving an artist talk at 2 p.m.