A Scientific Artist: Seeing the World Through a Camera Lens
Following a full and meaningful career focused on science and academic administration, Ted Lo has discovered a passion for photography in his retirement, allowing him to see the world in a whole new way
By Crystal Mackay, MA’05
The sun is high in the sky, and a bead of sweat rolls down his forehead and into his eye as he squints through the viewfinder of his camera. The guttural roar of dirt bikes in the distance gets louder and more intense as the pack of riders draws closer.
He checks his settings again; the shutter speed is high to capture the action. The aperture is wide, to make the subject pop from the blurred background. The lens he has chosen for this shoot was carefully pondered and selected from a spreadsheet of equipment. The location is deliberate for the perfect backdrop. Much like his work as a scientist and administrator, his approach to photography is methodical, careful and precise.
The first dirt bike rounds the corner of the motocross track and mounts the dirt hill, spraying dust and pebbles into his face, the deafening roar of the engine crowding his eardrums.
Smiling, he can taste the dirt on his tongue as he hears the satisfying click-click- click of the shutter on his camera rapid-firing to capture every fraction of the action before the bike is quickly out of sight again.
For Ted Lo, PhD, this isn’t a profession or a hobby. This is a passion. And one that he only discovered in the past eight years after taking on a professor emeritus title and retiring from his position as a scientist and chair of Biochemistry at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
Sitting in his living room in London, the wall behind him displaying a collection of his award-winning photographs – hummingbirds frozen in an effortless dance, a kayaker challenging the rapids, and a quiet fisherman casting his net from his boat – he talks about the ways photography has allowed him to see the world in a brand new way.
“Normally, I would tell you that I hate noise, and I hate dust. But when I was out there taking pictures of motocross racing, it was noisy and dusty and risky, and after I took those pictures, I realized that if they had crashed, I would have been the first one they hit,” he laughed. “But I didn’t mind at all when I was taking the pictures.”
Ted and his wife, Mimi, MLIS’86, began taking photographs when they retired in 2009 as a way to continue to learn and grow. At the time, they didn’t even own a digital camera. They joined the London Camera Club and began going on photography walks through the city discovering parks and trails that they had never seen before. In the evenings, they sat huddled in front of computer screens learning together from online webinars, and reading photography blogs.
“It was wonderful. We went back to school; it was like being students again,” he said. “All my life I had been focused on science and academic administration. I had a full and meaningful career, but when it was time to retire, I knew I had to find other opportunities to challenge myself and continue to grow.”
Lo’s impressive CV includes the establishment of the flourishing Bachelor of Medical Sciences program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, of which he served as founding director for five years. The highly sought-after program now boasts one of the highest entrance averages in the country. Under his leadership as chair of Biochemistry from 1996 to 2006, he is credited with the recruitment of a long list of key faculty members and the cultivating of a robust research program in the department.
“Ted can record the agonizing expression of a kayaker about to be swallowed up by the rapids or the elation of a bicycle racer about to win at the finish line. His use of light and composition in his photographs bears the breath of fine art.”
—Dr. Albert Mok, MSc’71, MD’75
His own work as a scientist led to the discovery of two different processes for transporting glucose into muscle cells, providing important clues into muscular diseases.
When asked how he sees his career as a scientist and his new identity as a photographer coexisting, Lo, in his methodical way, thoughtfully presented a prepared spreadsheet outlining all of the transferable skills he sees and the ways in which the two intersect.
The spreadsheet lists critical thinking and analysis, experimentation, time management, planning, and visualization. He talks of scouting out locations for shoots, analyzing lighting, background and camera settings, preparing spreadsheets of equipment, and planning for the unexpected; much the same way a scientist would analyze a problem, plan an experiment and test a hypothesis.
When Lo takes a photograph, he doesn’t approach it as a creative art form; he approaches it like a mystery to be solved. What focus, contrast, lighting and exposure are optimal for the shooting environment? What colour and tonal contrasts will make the photo pop? What about the composition of the photo will elicit an emotional response?
All of these considerations and analyses lead to breath-taking results.
“Ted’s unique passion is in catching the moment,” said Dr. Albert Mok, MSc’71, MD’75 a friend, colleague and past-president of the London Camera Club. “He can record the agonizing expression of a kayaker about to be swallowed up by the rapids or the elation of a bicycle racer about to win at the finish line. His use of light and composition in his photographs bears the breath of fine art.”
Lo’s collection of photographs has won him numerous accolades, including 11 gold medals and the Master Photographer Award from the Canadian Association of Photographic Arts, and title of ‘Best in Show’ in several photo exhibitions.
His photography has also given him licence to explore the world, from Alaska to Peru to China. Most recently he and Mimi were photographing wildlife in Florida.
“We might still have travelled to these places, but we would have said ‘oh that’s nice’ and walked away. Now we are waiting, watching and listening. We are really appreciating the environment that we are in.”
On their most recent trip to Florida, Ted and Mimi woke up in the muddy darkness of pre-dawn and carefully packed their equipment into their bags, checking and double-checking, reviewing their settings, and counting their memory cards. Their plan was to capture horses on the water’s edge as the sun rose.
They crouched in the wet sand as the sky began to lighten and the heat of the coming day caused mist to swirl off the waves as they rolled onto the sand. The quiet click of their shutters captured the riders and their horses as their hooves made deep impressions in the damp sand.
“When you are out in the midst of nature just before the sun comes out, it is so beautiful and it only lasts a few minutes, so you really have to pause and enjoy it,” he said. “Photography has allowed me to do that.”