The Lassen County Arts Council announced a new show on display through February and an artist’s reception tentatively scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22. Retired physician Peter Wilcox will display his collection of intimate patient portraits. Wilcox said he became interested in photography as a child by his father who took many photographs as part of his professional life.
“We bought old cameras at thrift stores, developed film and made contact prints in a makeshift darkroom,” Wilcox said. “As a teenager I tried astrophotography, though not very successfully due to lack of equipment. Eventually, after traveling and bumming around in the U.S. and Mexico, with stints in the Peace Corps in equatorial Africa and the army in Vietnam, I went to school and became a physician.”
But despite his new profession, Wilcox’s love of photography continued to grow.
“I was the doc at a community health clinic in Arizona at the end of the last century, serving mostly indigent patients, particularly Mexican and Guatemalan undocumented workers. While there I took photography classes at the local community college, mainly to have access to their darkroom, but I learned a lot, too, particularly in a photojournalism course taught by a photographer for the Phoenix Gazette. I started taking portraits of my patients — they let me photograph them in exchange for giving them 8 by 10 glossies of the results.”
Eventually, armed with thrift store camera gear, his wife let him set up a darkroom in her laundryroom.
“I did this for about 10 years, then moved away and started using digital cameras,” Wilcox said. “I recently decided to scan my negatives from that time so I could have them in digital form and be able to print them on a printer. There are more than 10,000 images, so there was a lot of editing to do. While scanning, I thought some of the portraits might make an interesting exhibit, so I contacted the Arts Council to see if they were interested, and they were!”
Given the subject matter of the photos, Wilcox doesn’t want to sell them.
“Most of the photos were of young women and children, since OB, family planning and pediatrics were a large part of my practice. Apparently, word got around, and family members and friends who wanted their pictures taken started coming in with the patients. I don’t feel it’s appropriate that any of these would be for sale (not that anyone would want them),” Wilcox said, “so I have given them to the Lassen County Arts Council, and if anybody would want one, they could get one in return for a small donation to the council.”
The gallery is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Call the arts council at 257-5222 for more information or to confirm the artist’s reception time and date.