Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Dr. Rob Kurtzman: Photography as a Second Career

Colorado's Mount Garfield and the Bookcliffs. Colorado's Mount Garfield and the Bookcliffs.
© Dr. Rob Kurtzman

A look at a successful Forensic Pathologist who shifted his gears to follow his passion for photography.

It wasn't long ago that most people spent their entire working lives in one career and often one company. But times have changed.

As the average lifespan increases, seemingly in inverse proportion to the average length of a typical career, many successful professionals are finding more time to gravitate toward other activities — secondary vocations that may not be their chief source of income, but that are demanding enough to be called careers.

Photography, an inherently creative and usually solitary pursuit, has proven to be a popular choice for many businesspeople with a need for self-expression. Although there is no shortage of weekend warriors with autofocus SLRs and basement darkrooms who think they are the next Annie Leibovitz, a select few have been able to become nearly as successful in photography as they were in their initial professions.

We spoke to five people who were at the top of their fields — a software engineer, a surgeon, a forensic pathologist, a financial advisor and a business executive — before taking on a secondary career in photography.

Today, all have received high praise and recognition for their photography via published books, touring exhibitions or both.
Together, their successes are proof that creative and motivated people no longer have to decide between the careers that they love and the careers that they need to pay the bills.

Forensic Pathologist to Photographer

Rob Kurtzman, a forensic pathologist living in Grand Junction, Colo., has been practicing for more than 20 years. But in college, "it was tough deciding between photography or going to medical school," he says.

He was introduced to photography by his cousin, and received his first camera when he was 8 years old. "It was a Kodak Hawkeye, and it used 127 rollfilm," Kurtzman remembers. "I developed my first roll of film in our basement at home using an FR developing kit. It came with a daylight developing tank, three 5x7 developing trays, a contact print box, a few chemicals, a safelight and some paper tongs for the trays. I was hooked.

From then on, it seemed that I always had a camera suspended from my shoulder."

Being equally intrigued by science and medicine, Kurtzman made the tough decision and chose the medical field as his primary profession. He majored in biology and began his medical training at Des Moines University's College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. In 1992, he moved to Grand Junction and currently works at Community Hospital.

Kurtzman spearheaded a number of high-profile pathology investigations. He performed the autopsy and recorded the findings in the 1997 report on the accidental skiing death of Michael Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He was part of the team that investigated the 1987 Northwest Airlines disaster in which 156 people were killed when Flight 255 crashed on takeoff in Detroit. He also investigated the 2006 death of disgraced Enron president Kenneth Lay.

Kurtzman has made a habit of keeping his camera ready for any photographic opportunity. "When you're a forensic pathologist, you're exposed to so many horrific things in life," he says. "I'm glad I have photography, because it's a balance that brings me back some of the beauty of the world."

With the encouragement of his wife, in 1998, he started marketing his photography seriously, first via posters, cards and calendars, and then as prints through local galleries. Last March, he purchased Frame Works & Gallery in Grand Junction. His work is also on display at the Reed Photo Gallery in Denver.

Kurtzman cites Ansel Adams as one of his major inspirations. "When I was young I often wondered why his images evoked such response," he says. "I came to understand how the different aspects of his work — contrast, lighting — were very subjective."

In a way, Kurtzman's forensic career relates to his work in photography.

"When I look through the microscope, the different patterns are abstract, and it takes some skill to interpret those things to make them objective, whereas photography starts out objective, but it turns into something very subjective."

Kurtzman has the best of both worlds: He loves both his professions and doesn't want to give up either.

His work can be viewed on his website atrobkurtzman.com.

Marilyn Morgan
Story Author: Marilyn Morgan

Marilyn Morgan is a Seattle-based freelance writer and photographer.

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