Ask the typical Doctor of Optometry in this country about the “community” he or she serves. Most of those doctors will likely refer to caring for patients in their immediate vicinity: in their towns, cities, or neighboring states. But what if that practice was less local and your mission more global, say in Alaska, Afghanistan, or even beyond?
This was the pitch presented to Steve Craft ahead of his second shoot for the American Optometric Association and its in-house publication, Focus. For the project, the Phoenix-based photographer traveled to Houston and Alaska to meet with Drs. Tyson Brunstetter and Hanna Fylpaa, are optometrists who serve Americans of all kinds. While the crux of the piece is about highlighting eye doctors who help military members — the article ran around Veteran’s Day — it also touches on how they aid military families on the home front, astronauts preparing for space travel, and indigenous people in remote locations.
This story was an eye opener (both no pun and pun intended). These people are caring, flexible, unselfish humanitarians.
The first doctor featured, Tyson Brunstetter, is the subject of the following sentence, which is very impressive: the doctorate-holding Ohioan is a captain in the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps and works for NASA.
At Johnson Space Center in Houston, Dr. Brunstetter is researching an ailment called Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS), a new setback that “affects astronauts during long-duration spaceflight.” Part of what makes Dr. Brunstetter uniquely qualified to help astronauts is that he was almost one himself.
Dr. Brunstetter [stood out] because he went through training to be an astronaut and made the cut until there were about 20 left out of thousands of applicants.
What NASA has discovered is that, among other things, astronauts’ eyeballs flatten due to prolonged weightlessness in space. It’s Dr. Brunstetter’s task to cull and track ocular data from crew members during their missions so the clinical team can “learn more about SANS pathophysiology.” Why? In short, we want to get to Mars one day, so we need to know if our eyes are up to snuff. This portion of the shoot being space-infused, Steve did well to get this beauty, even if it didn’t end up making the final cut:
This one is definitely my favorite shot. Everything just lined up with the location and lighting. The first location we found didn’t work out. We shot this right at the end of the day after we scrambled to find another location while the sun was going down.
A setting sun seems like it’s always around the corner in Juneau, Alaska, the second stop in Steve’s shoot. The optometrist out that way, Dr. Hanna Fylpaa, spends much of her time treating underserved residents in the northwesternmost corner of America, including members of the local Native American community.
When she’s not deploying to human-made or natural disasters for humanitarian work, she’s stationed in the Alaskan capital — or visiting nearly-inaccessible parts of the 49th state to provide ocular care. I say nearly inaccessible because there is only one practical way to get to such remote areas: seaplane. For the sake of squeezing another eye-themed pun into this piece, we’ll call it a see plane.
Luckily, Dr. Fylpaa had a contact who owned a sea plane, so we used that as a prop for the shots.
One of those images ended up gracing the cover of Focus. Naturally, Dr. Fylpaa couldn’t wait to get her hands on a copy.
She recently sent me an email. It reads, “I am still anxiously awaiting my copy of the AOA Focus magazine. I have been sent enough photos from friends and colleagues to know the photos you took of me made the front cover. SO COOL!”
AOA itself was incredibly happy with the work and even asked Steve to shoot imagery for their annual report. That makes three assignments with AOA for Steve in one year, a great get for the Phoenician. This work in particular really stuck with Steve. After all, we need to look out for our military, astronauts, and underserved citizens. That’s where Drs. Brunstetter and Fylpaa come in — and we thank them for their service.
I think anyone who spends time helping the underserved and less fortunate needs to be recognized and applauded.
Check out more of Steve’s work on his website.
Read more about Steve Craft on our Published Blog.