Los Gatos photo show goes ‘Behind Closed Doors’

The Art Museum of Los Gatos presents an unusual photo show called “Behind Closed Doors,” which takes viewers into the operating room.

The exhibit, on display through July 28, features works by Shelley D. Spray, a Los Gatos resident who is one of the few professional photographers in the world specializing in fine art surgical photography.

Spray’s own potential “brush with death” was the impetus for beginning work in the field. She says, “Knowing I am a breast cancer survivor seems important when I share how I began photographing. It was through this experience that I found the courage to try something new as I resigned from my job and moved to Paris, France to study photography. I know people dream about doing something crazy like this, but after the diagnosis, I had a fresh look on life and realized I’d better start living it.”

In October 2000, when she was 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived with a small, ½;-inch scar which she calls her “scar of life.”

Although the school she attended in France specialized in fashion photography, Spray — who had worked in the surgical industry and is now a marketing officer for a medical company — decided to take her camera into the operating room.

She says, “As I clicked away, I realized surgical photography was a way for me to describe the pain I had experienced and the strength I had found. It also became a way of bringing awareness to unique individuals on the medical team focused on saving a patient’s life.”

Spray’s images — of procedures including brain and open heart surgery — aren’t bloody, but have a curious beauty. Exhibited in France and Switzerland as well as the Los Gatos show, they have been compared to works by 17th-century French artist Georges de La Tour, who is known for paintings of figures caught in shadows of candlelight.

Spray will appear at a “meet the artist” event from 1 to 3 p.m. July 14.

— Staff report

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