Creative Spotlight: Dr Nelson Lau, Photographer

The Medical Startup believes that creativity is the life-force of good in healthcare, technology and business. We’ll be regularly featuring the faces of health professionals and medical startups who excel in creative pursuits beyond their medical and startup careers.

Dr Nelson Lau is a General Practitioner, telehealth doctor, professional photographer and filmmaker. His company, Looking Glass Photography, has exhibited on multiple occasions, including twice at Head On, Australia’s largest photography festival. Nelson’s current exhibition, “Timeless,” is finishing on a high note this weekend as part of Head On in Sydney.

"Timeless" photo exhibition by Nelson Lau, Looking Glass Photography. Photo taken with Dr Lau's permission. themedicalstartup.com and lookingglassphotography.com.au
Timeless” photo exhibition by Dr Nelson Lau, Looking Glass Photography. Photo taken with Dr Lau’s permission.

Inspired by the languid beauty of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s film “In The Mood For Love”, “Timeless” takes viewers on a suspenseful journey of hope and longing, following two star-crossed lovers through The Rocks and other iconic Sydney locations.

The characters of “Timeless” are styled in the nostalgic fashion of Hong Kong in the 60s, with beautiful cheongsams, delicate wristwatches and the female protagonist’s iconic bouffant nodding to Wong Kar-Wai’s depiction of the era.

The Rocks was once a thriving marketplace where many Chinese immigrants sold their wares in the 1800s. “If you look outside, there is still a wall on one of the buildings with the name of a Chinese merchant painted from back then,” says Nelson. He had the honour of Claudia Chan Shaw, daughter of acclaimed fashion designer Vivian Chan Shaw, speaking at “Timeless”’ opening night.

We met Nelson at his exhibition and chatted about his work.

How did you get started with photography?

In med school, I made time for life drawing, sculpture and photography, and reading literature. I believed in the benefit of keeping something outside of medicine. It’s really important to try find your identity outside of medicine. In high school, what really inspired me was literature and the arts, even though I was much better at science and maths.

How did you evolve from school days to med school, and develop your careers in medicine and filmmaking?

I’ve worked in a lot of places- I trained and then worked in both metropolitan and rural Western Australia. I’ve also worked in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Horn Island, the New South Wales Central Coast, and now, Sydney. I grew up in Swaziland and Hong Kong. You see huge inequalities in health in Swaziland. The percentage of the population between 15-49 years of age with HIV is 29%! One of the highest rates in the world.

My student elective was in Mauritius- Quatre-Borne- in Paediatrics. Again, I was faced with more health inequalities. There’d be six kids to one cot! Very different from the holiday resort depictions of the country.

Dr Nelson Lau, Looking Glass Photography, at his latest exhibition, "Timeless." Photo taken with Dr Lau's permission. lookingglassphotography.com.au and themedicalstartup.com
Dr Nelson Lau, Looking Glass Photography, at his latest exhibition, “Timeless.” Photo taken with Dr Lau’s permission.

I began taking photographs in high school, and continued throughout med school. I started out using manual SLRs, then learnt how to create Super8 videos from my dad. I also have a lot of friends in Med who are very creative.

Working as a doctor has also allowed me to travel to many interesting places around Australia. I met I met Torres Strait Islander and ARIA-award-winning musician, Seaman Dan, when I was working on Horn Island, which is next to Thursday Island at the northern tip of Queensland. He would take the ferry with his Zimmer frame across every week to play gigs at the pub, and then return the same night! I shot a photo documentary about him.

I also shot a documentary photography series about Ron Williams’ David and Goliath journey against the High Court challenge relating to the National School Chaplaincy Program. Multiple interests have led me to different projects.

Can you describe your photography?

It took awhile for me to pinpoint my style. I finally realised, that I create fine art portraiture in a narrative sense.

“Timeless” represents key frames of a film about the couple’s life. I also created a short nine-minute film at the exhibition, featuring 2.5D animation techniques. I shot the scenes over four days, over the course of three years. Serena, the female model, is also a big fan of Wong Kar-wai’s work, and of Maggie Cheung (the lead actress from “In The Mood For Love”). Then I tried to write a story about it.

It’s interesting that Wong Kar-wai’s films are never scripted..

Yes, and I tried to do that with Timeless, too. Initially, I was writing the story myself. This idea that they’d be in parallel worlds and travel through time. Then I came across Emily Dickinson. I realised her words would help enhance the key frames, and the viewer can then relate their own interpretations of the story.

The Rocks Discovery Museum where Nelson's exhibition, part of Head On Photo Festival, will run til July 3rd. Photo: The Medical Startup
The Rocks Discovery Museum, where Nelson’s exhibition, part of Head On Photo Festival, will run til July 3rd. Photo: The Medical Startup

How did your interest in Telehealth begin?

I started six years ago, when Medibank called out for GPs to help with their telehealth project. Patients were dialling from rural locations where the closest doctor could be over 500kms away. The service provided patients across Australia with free after hours’ GP advice. Often, the patients wouldn’t know how to use their prescribed medications properly, or needed other simple advice that they would have otherwise travelled to the nearest ED for, after hours.

Now, I am a consulting GP for ReadyCare, which is a part of TelstraHealth.

At the moment, Telehealth consults aren’t directly covered by the Government or Medicare. There’s no MBS rebate for the patient. It’ll be great when the Government sees the benefit of Telehealth in Australia. It’ll improve access for rural communities to healthcare.

We need data to show the benefit of telehealth in certain areas. It’s not a replacement for a regular GP living in the area. Telehealth’s function is to be complementary to the patient’s own regular GP’s care. It’s really important for us that we promote and ensure the continuity of care between the patient and their own GP.

What’s some advice you’d like to share with others interested in pursuing a similar journey?

I heard some advice from Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page: “Don’t think in terms of limitations now- think in terms of possibilities in the future.”

Timeless” as part of Head On Photo Festival will be showing until 3 July 2016 at The Rocks Discovery Museum. Entry is free. Visit https://www.headon.com.au/exhibitions/timeless and lookingglassphotography.com.au to learn more about the exhibition and to follow Nelson’s work.

Opening Hours:

Monday – Sunday: 10:00 am-5:00 pm

THE ROCKS DISCOVERY MUSEUM

Kendall Lane (off Argyle St)

2000 The Rocks , NSW

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