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January 14, 2014

Eastpointe resident’s medical eye photography wins award

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
A photo of the back of an eye suffering from an arterial occlusion, by Eastpointe’s Nicole Chesney, took first place in its category at the annual conference of the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society. The bright lines indicate where a dye is flowing through the vascular system, while the dark lines show where it is unable to flow due to the blockage.

EASTPOINTE — An ophthalmic photographer — a person who takes pictures of eyes for medical diagnosing purposes — from Eastpointe has received a first-place award for one of her photos from the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society (OPS).

Nicole Chesney, 33, of Eastpointe, took first place in the “fluorescein angiography” category during the society’s annual conference in November. She said it was the first time she had entered any of her work for the group’s photo competition, and it was the only picture she had submitted.

For her submitted photo, the patient’s eye had an artery occlusion, or a blockage in a blood vessel. Dye injected into the patient’s bloodstream would show up in photos, and Chesney said she then took a series of photos with a specialized camera so eye specialists could confirm that an occlusion was the problem and figure out how to treat it.

“It’s cool because people from all over the world are entering this competition,” Chesney said. “I don’t know what took me so long.”

Ophthalmic photography was not something Chesney had intended to get into, however. She said she had earned a degree from the College of Creative Studies in photography and had a background in it, but she originally expected her career would take her to the world of art. Her mother’s work with Kresge Eye Institute downtown ended up leading to an alternate path.

“She told me that, at Kresge, they had photographers, and if I ever wanted to come down and observe, they would let me spend a few days with them,” Chesney said. “I thought it was interesting, and a week later, they called me and offered a temp position.”

While working as a temp, she said she learned how to do basic things, like make up syringes, hold eyelids open, doing “optical coherence tomography” tests and actual eye imaging itself. After a few months there, her photography group told her about a position opening up at the Henry Ford Health System, where she has worked since 2010.

While she has been with the OPS for a few years, she said she never thought to submit any of her photos until last fall. Chesney did not end up attending the conference, held in New Orleans, either, though her friend Melanie Zuckero, on the OPS Board of Education, did go.

“She said, ‘Buddy, you won first place.’ I said, ‘No way,’” Chesney said. “It was my first time entering the competition, and I only entered the one piece, so it was pretty sweet.”

She said some of the things that judges look for in the photos are an interesting pathology, or problem with the eye, a sharp focus and good exposure, and overall quality image. Chesney said the photo she entered had an “extremely sharp” focus and a clean view of the patient’s cornea.

Zuckero said Chesney’s winning photo would be showcased in the OPS journal, published twice yearly, as well as at the American Association of Ophthalmologists conference. She said she also tends to encourage new photographers to submit things, as they may have a fresh chance to win in a category, and she believes it was something she had talked to Chesney about in advance.

“Where I work, we’ve been submitting every single year, so I probably talked to her about submitting something this year,” Zuckero said. “I would say it wasn’t impossible (for her to win first place); it was definitely possible. She has great work.”

The judges are made up of OPS members and ophthalmologists, she added.

Chesney said she has every intention of entering more pictures in the future. She already is keeping in mind what the judges would be looking for.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s interesting work, and it’s always something new and different,” she said. “This type of photography is way outside the box for me. I’m not scientific — not technical like that — but it just jives with me. I really like it a lot.”