BIRMINGHAM – Famed American photographer Ansel Adams once said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Birmingham physician Joseph Wu has found some truly breathtaking places to stand after he discovered his love of photography in medical school.
What began as a hobby in medical school, just playing around with a camera as the unofficial class photographer, as Dr. Wu joked, soon turned into a sense of true adventure when he realized the places his camera could take him…and what memories his photographs would conjure later.
“With each trip I take, I update my website and Facebook page to keep people coming back to see where I’ve been. It’s not to sell my photos. That certainly would not make enough money for me to quit my day job!” Dr. Wu laughed. “It really feels as if I’m bringing memories of these adventures back for others to enjoy as well.”
Dr. Wu is quick to admit that he wasn’t all that interested in learning the mechanics of photography when he first began taking photos. The technical aspects of shutter speed, exposure and aperture were not that interesting to him. After he and his wife married and began traveling to some unexpected places, he realized the stunning landscapes they were seeing together would translate to gorgeous photographs, and it was time he learned how to operate the bells and whistles on his camera.
“We don’t go to your typical, run-of-the-mill vacation places most people do. For our honeymoon, we went to Portugal and since then we’ve been to Patagonia and Norway. We see pictures of places and we think, ‘Oh we HAVE to go there! This is absolutely amazing!’ We’ve been to places that 10 years ago people never traveled to and now have become real tourist destinations. We love to go to the outlying areas people don’t normally go to, so that’s where I like to take my pictures,” Dr. Wu explained.
He honed his photography skills in one of the most unlikely places on the planet. Iceland may not sound like a living postcard, but you’d be surprised. With dramatic landscapes of volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields, Iceland’s massive glaciers served as the backdrop for Dr. Wu’s first photography workshop.
“I started thinking that if I was going to spend this much time taking pictures, I wanted them to be presentable. This may be a hobby I’d like to improve, even though this can be a very expensive hobby!” he laughed. “After you get into it, with all the cameras and other equipment, it gets pretty expensive because there’s always new and better gear.”
Iceland proved to be an artistic awakening, and he was definitely bitten by the photo bug.
“My first trip to Iceland was way before everyone was deciding to go to Iceland, and now it’s become a vacation destination. I chose a workshop group in Iceland because their photos looked amazing, and their leaders were all pros, but everyone was very approachable. They gave everyone a lot of time and good feedback. Of course, they criticize you, but you’re there to learn. They really want you to get better as a photographer and your work to get better. Once you get there it’s the perfect learning environment. You’re in this beautiful place, and you want to bring this beauty home with you…somehow. It’s not to wow people looking at your social media pages but just to say ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing, and I want to share it with you.’ Every photograph is a beautiful memory, and I want to share that moment,” he said.
Since then, Dr. Wu and his family have taken many family vacations to some unusual destinations from Canyonlands National Park in Utah and The Palouse in Washington State to more exotic places such as Patagonia, New Zealand, China and the Yukon Territory. Still, he has a bucket list of destinations such as Namibia, Myanmar, Japan and Tasmania. Later this year he has an excursion planned for Antarctica.
To the delight of his patients, the exam rooms in his office at the Simon-Williamson Clinic are filled with some of his favorite photographs from his travels, and they are more and conversation pieces.
“The patients love them! My patients know I love to travel, and they strike up a conversation about where I took the photos and how. So, it gives us something to talk about to break the ice other than why they’re here. It helps build that relationship with my patients. There are some pictures that really resonate with my patients. I have one picture in one of the exam rooms that’s of some old farm equipment. My patients love that picture. They love it! I thought it was cool, but it’s farm equipment!” he laughed. “I have another that’s an old locomotive wheel I took when I was in Minnesota. I took it because I liked the wheel and the stuff coming out of it. I turned it into a black and white picture, and the patients LOVE it! I enjoy sharing these memories with my patients, and they put them at ease when they’re here.”
If you’d like to see more of Dr. Wu’s photos, check out his gallery online at josephwu.smugmug.com, but he’s given us permission to display a few of his favorites below.