Leaven Blog

Religion, surgery, photography: Do they have anything in common?


by Dr. Fernando Ugarte
Leaven freelance photographer

I will begin by saying that I was raised in a Catholic country, Peru. My parents were Catholic and therefore I became a Catholic. I am still a Catholic, but I think that over the many years of my life my religion has been more important as I get older.

I also graduated from medical school, went to surgery residency, and became a general surgeon. I love my practice. I am still quite active where I live in my surgical practice.

Finally, I love photography. I started taking photographs when I was a resident in surgery and, throughout the years, it has become a passion that I have, a hobby that I enjoy constantly, and since my wife and I travel extensively, I always document the places where I go and all the things that I do.

In general I take photographs of everything and everybody that I encounter.

When I take pictures of my cases in the operating room, I keep them in a file to document what I do. And since I was at a teaching hospital many years ago, I used to have these photographs to teach medical students and residents. The general photography that I do is scenery, places, museums, and that I consider my travel photography.

Since I am a Catholic person, wherever I go, I visit churches and some time in the past I started documenting the churches. At one point I realized that churches are open to the public, they are different in different places — some are small, some are majestic — and suddenly I discovered the Stations of the Cross. I had no idea how many they were until late in my life.

I started counting them. There were 14. I didn’t know what they meant until I started reading about them and then I began to understand each one of them.

I might say that photographers don’t photograph everything; they specialize in scenery, people, weddings, evidence, and journalism. No photographer will be able to photograph everything. Yet I began to be interested in the Stations of the Cross.

I have a very large collection of [photographs of] Stations of the Cross from around the world. And now I make a point of calling ahead, finding out where the church is, whether it is open, and if it is not, I call ahead so that they can open the church. I get the address of the church, and when I go on vacation, I make a point of going to all the churches that I can.

It has been a long road, but full of fun. I usually go to the operating room in a very happy mood, I do my cases, I think about my photography and what I am going to photograph next, what church can I go to, and since I have started reading about the Stations I can also say that my understanding of being a Catholic has also widened.

It would be appropriate to say that throughout many years of photographing Stations of the Cross, I have never encountered Stations that are exactly alike in two different churches. There are variations of one image that are different from the other church and there are some that are unique. There are some that are difficult to understand unless we know what they mean and they all have different versions of the same Station. They are really, truly pieces of art.

I have been at churches where Stations have been stolen and they cannot be made again. I have seen Stations of the Cross that when I see the image they need to be repaired. I have seen Stations that are so elaborate that it would be impossible to duplicate. There are Stations that are hand-painted. They are made in clay. They are made of wood. They are flat or they are raised. I cannot tell all the varieties that I have seen.

All I can say is that my photography has become better as I try to capture true images. I have fun when I travel. Churches are free. They are open. Yet I have to ask permission many times to photograph the church, but I have never been charged.

Perhaps museums might be more beautiful, which I always visit [as well], but this particular choice of my photography of Stations of the Cross has been truly remarkable to me. My religion has supported me, my professional life, and also has given me a lot of fun and joy when I use my passion of photography everywhere that I go.

I truly recommend anyone to use their cameras and see what they can do in a church.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Leave a Comment