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Omaha Magazine

Remember the Taj Mahal

Mar 03, 2020 09:23AM ● By Houston Wiltsey

Dr. Wayne Markus almost forgot the Taj Mahal. Midway through a conversation about photography, he casually mentioned that he photographed the famous Indian mausoleum some years back.

“It’s a really interesting building because it’s almost translucent,” he said, marveling at the beauty of the structure in his mind. “You can see the light creeping through from the other side when the sun hits it in just the right way. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

The 76-year-old semi-retired pathologist often has moments like this. He will go over the minutia of photography—how he likes to shoot in aperture priority mode to control the depth of field, how many megapixels his Nikon D850 has, or the different types of film he has shot with over the years—and it triggers something. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he throws out a remark about capturing a dinner in Portugal or snapping a picture at sea in some exotic land. After more than 45 years of traveling the globe, Markus is full of anecdotes like this, and photography has given him a way to document them.

His love of the art form started early.

“My dad was a photographer,” Markus said before correcting himself. “Well, he was a farmer, but he took a lot of pictures, and I remember him constantly photographing family events and things around the house.” In fact, a series of photographs from a family trip to the Pacific Northwest are the first memorable snapshots he recalls seeing.

“I don’t remember the trip, but I can vividly remember a photograph that my dad took of the Grand Coulee Dam [located in Northeast Washington] and just being transfixed by it,” he said. “There are other bits and pieces of that set that I can still remember—a person standing here, a tractor there—but what sticks out is this special feeling I got when looking at them.”

Though he loved the images his dad was taking, it would be almost another two decades before he found himself behind the camera consistently.

Starting in medical school, Markus began taking pictures of the same subjects his father had—friends, families, and parties—with a fixed 35mm Exakta camera. At the time, it was a good way to document life and create mementos. Capturing these images also allowed Markus the chance to give his mind a break from his vigorous study schedule. However, the more he became involved in photography, the more parallels he saw between it and what he was experiencing in the world of medicine.

“They’re very visual, and attention to detail is important in both,” he said. “Looking at microscopic slides of tumors and tissues gives you a broad perspective of what’s going on and when you’re really good, you don’t think about the details, they come to you automatically. I felt like photography was the same way in those respects.”

Once bitten by the travel bug a few years later, photographing his excursions became a great way to further deepen his commitment to the craft. He began trying to compose and capture the finer points of his subjects out of necessity. In some of these exotic locales he only had one chance to get a perfect shot.

"I want to create something that people don’t just glance at,” he said.

Markus snapped photos of cherry blossoms in Japan and wildlife in the Galapagos. During a stay in Wyoming, he trudged through the snow to capture a buffalo at the break of dawn. Over the last few years, he and his wife, Karen, have taken extended trips to Europe, traversing the Duoro, Danube, and Rhine rivers with other members of the International Food and Wine Society. One of his images, a young lady in Portugal holding up a bottle of port wine, made the cover of the society’s member publication, Wine, Food, and Friends. Photography has even taken Markus under the sea.

“I had this underwater camera and I had no idea how it was going to expose pictures,” said Markus of a trip to the Caribbean. “I took some pictures the first day but I didn’t know if they were any good so I decided I needed to develop them there so I could see what I had. I had brought some powdered chemicals which I mixed in my empty suitcase. I even brought a small space heater so I could control the temperature,” he added with a laugh.

“All these trips just allow me to experiment and get better,” Markus said. “Recently, I’ve enjoyed using wide-angle lenses in situations you wouldn’t normally use them—like the inside of cathedrals or ornate houses.”

When asked if he is happy with any of the shots he said, “not really, but I’m still experimenting. For me, the results aren’t everything. I get as much enjoyment out of taking the picture as I do looking at them.”

“Every trip I’m taking between 2,000 and 3,000 pictures and I review everything in [Adobe] Lightroom afterward to see if I can tweak an image to make it special.”

He’s not looking to slow down anytime soon either. This coming April, the couple will jet off to France, dining their way through Paris and Bordeaux with the society before taking a guided historical tour of Normandy.

He still focuses on composition.

“With iPhone pictures, you just flip through them as fast as possible and I like something that makes the viewer think about the subject and how the photo was composed,” Markus said.

This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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