Healing photography at Woodhull

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Brooklyn photographer Nancy Siesel knows hospitals.

Three years ago, the Park Slope resident’s boyfriend, Timothy Lally, developed a brain tumor similar to the one recently diagnosed in Ted Kennedy.

Miraculously, a non-toxic alternative treatment disintegrated the tumor. But soon after, doctors discovered in Lally another brain tumor, which Siesel believes was caused by the radiation he received in addition to the alternative treatment.

The couple valiantly tried to jump through bureaucratic hoops to re-administer the alternative treatment. But red tape and what Siesel portrayed as excessively risk-averse hospital personnel delayed the treatment, which Siesel thinks allowed the tumor to grow to a point beyond saving.

Lally died in May 2005 at the age of 45.

Through the ordeal, Siesel, balanced her duties as a New York Times staff photographer with being a caregiver, doing everything she could to spend as much time by her boyfriend’s bedside as possible.

From the grief of that period in her life has sprung inspiration. Siesel, a veteran of hospitals, has used her work to make hospitals a better place for the sick and their loved ones.

Her new exhibit, “View in a Room,” a collection of ten 30 by 30-inch photographs of some of the most striking landscapes in the world, will be on view in the main lobby at Woodhull Medical Center (760 Broadway) now through June 30.

After this public portion of the show – which was funded by the Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Regrant Program – the photos will move to rooms in the Intensive Care Unit.

“I read about a study saying that people who looked out a window actually heal faster,” said Seisel, who now does freelance photography. “And I remember with Tim, when he was at Beth Israel North [during the successful bout with the first tumor], he would look out onto the East River and all the boats.”

Seisel took the photos over a decade-long period. Weary from the harrowing urban images she would take for the Times Metro Section, she vacationed in remote locales and took photographed the serene landscapes she encountered.

“It became a healing kind of process. Being in New York, working that job, I would take it all in. For me, taking a shot of a crime scene was always so raw and visceral,” she said.

Siesel used a plastic-lens camera from the 1970s, the Diana, which lends her photos a surreal quality that temporarily transports the viewer to another place.

“There’s one point of focus but there’s a lot of aberrations and light leaks,” she described.

Seisel hopes her images will infuse a heartrending time with a touch of beauty.

Reflecting on her own experience, she said: “All of this came from grief, but the experience taking care of him was really a wonderful experience in some ways. When somebody wants to live that much, you just want to do everything you can.”


“View in a Room,” in memory of Timothy P. Lally, will be on display in the main lobby at Woodhull Medical Center (760 Broadway) now through June 30.

Updated 3:46 pm, October 19, 2011
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