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Interview

Toronto digital artist Ray Caesar talks about his life and reading.

Ray Caesar talks about his experiences working in a children's hospital...

READERSVOICE.COM: When and where were you working in a children’s hospital?

RAY CAESAR: From about 1980 to 1997 I worked at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, which is one of the largest Children’s Hospitals in the world. I was out of work in 1980 and took a temporary job doing medical graphs with ink and vellum as I was an architect, but nothing was being built due to a recession.

My father was a photographer so I knew a lot about that, and my wife worked in the cancer hospital across the street so I had an easy access to any medical knowledge I needed.

My boss was a strict Austrian photographer who grew up during the days of the Third Reich and I learnt a a lot about being a perfectionist and a strict work ethic from her ….. she was actually part of the Luftwaffe….she was the hardest boss I ever had and probably the one that I learnt the most from. I would have to stand at attention in front of her desk as she lectured me about this or that …strange days and days I will never forget.

RV: What kinds of pictures did you create as a medical artist, and what was the procedure when you were documenting some of the injuries the children had?

RC: I worked in the photography dept which documented anything suspicious regarding child abuse, and back in those days we had to document any form of surgery and keeping visual medical records of just about anything.

Mainly I remember dealing with a lot of images to do with surgical reconstruction and bone deformities such as scoliosis, and the hospital specialized in brain trauma, and had an extensive burn ward and leukemia ward, and a major research center which of course dealt with lots of animals.

Even my niece had open-heart surgery there.

It’s hard to put all that into a few sentences as this was a massive hospital and I worked continuously on so many different things from technical diagrams of machinery that would surround children, or complex board games for brain-damaged children, or other similar tools for psychologists to help in diagnosing the mysteries of a child’s mind.

I mounted and prepared a lot of sensitive material to be used in court cases and prepared the graphs and diagrams and presentations for some of the amazing research publications that came out of the research institute.

A lot of p.r. work is done in hospitals of this size, and visiting celebrities, and there is a business side of preparing annual reports and even the running of an in-house TV station for the kids. All in all it’s like a tiny city devoted to the single task of helping sick children and so much effort and energy is put into this one thing that it’s just not possible to even scratch the surface.

A lot of the work was boring and tedious, and a lot was overwhelming and discouraging but every so often you felt like a part of a miracle and could feel the simple joy of a relieved parent and see a smile on the face of healthy happy child that was going to go home.

RV: How much of your world view was affected by this experience?

RC: I had a difficult childhood myself, and it took a young man who felt he was worth nothing and opened his eyes to something truly profound and inspiring.

It made me realize what a gift life is and how hard people fight for that life even in the face of constant sorrow. It taught me to never give up and do something with the gift of life rather than waste it.

RV: How did you learn to use Maya?

RC: Working at the hospital one day, I had to mount some photographs of a young murder victim who had been strangled …actually I wasn’t sure exactly as they never quite gave you details, but I knew she died in pain and in horror and no one should have to die like that….I just started crying and I left the job a few days later as I just didn’t understand our species anymore, and 17 years was just enough of that sort of thing.

I took a course on computer animation around 1997 using Alias Power animator on SGI workstations… the precursor to Maya. I had used some 3D software in my job for a few years and I loved the idea of being in an odd sort of virtual space … it had possibilities.

I didn’t know what I was going to do with it and I didn’t care as I just needed to do something…badly needed to be doing something back then. I made art while I was at the hospital but I did it as a way of making sense of what I saw each day …as some might make a diary. I never allowed myself the idea that it would be up in a gallery or even on my own wall …it was just an obsession and after I left the hospital I gave it up as it was full of bad feelings for some time.

I think I took the course in Maya and the job in the effects industry because my subconscious knew what I had to do …even if my conscious rational mind didn’t.

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