Staff member's keen eye behind camera and his savvy with computers have helped inform years of University research in the visual sciences.
Chances are if you're a Hawkeye fan, you've seen Paul Montague's work. For the past 11 years, he's been on the sidelines at Kinnick Stadium during Iowa football games taking photos for use by the University of Iowa athletics department, and the resulting visuals have graced stadium banners and numerous Iowa sports publications.
But that's just what he does for fun.
In the career he's had for more than three decades, Montague has set his lens to capture a much different subject: the human eye. He spent 15 years as director of diagnostic imaging in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where he used specialized equipment to detail aspects of the eye, helping doctors and researchers understand and diagnose eye disease. Since the late 1980s, he has served the department as manager of research and development.
"I find it fascinating to work with physicians," says Montague, one of fewer than 400 certified ophthalmic photographers in the country. "When I first started in the field, I took seminars along with the medical residents. There are so many non-photographic things to learn."
Montague developed an interest in photography as a teenager, when he stumbled upon his father's old camera equipment during a visit to his grandmother's house.
"I set up a darkroom using those 25-year-old chemicals and they were good enough to make a print," recalls Montague, a native of Santa Monica, Calif. "My dad had been an amateur photographer who worked on his high school newspaper."
Montague briefly followed in his father's footsteps, joining the staff of his high school yearbook and newspaper, and then took a job at a local commercial photo studio while studying photography at Santa Monica College. A motorcycle accident that occurred during a stint as a studio photographer in Portland, Ore., prompted him to switch focus.
"I was laid up in the hospital for three or four months and had a piece of glass stuck in my eye," Montague says. "One of my doctors told me that people made a living taking photos of the back of the eye and asked me if I was interested."
Intrigued, Montague applied for a spot in a Portland eye clinic's internship program and beat out 115 other applicants.
"I was not at all familiar with the field, but it's a different kind of photography, and I saw it as a challenge," says Montague, who had grown tired of shooting his typical assignments of weddings and sporting events. "I'm the kind of person who likes something new to come along."
Despite that thirst for trying new things, Montague has been a force at the University for nearly 35 years, continually broadening the reach of his traditional job duties.
"This job has been so good," he notes. "The faculty is a symbiotic group that has really pulled together to get things done. And they have given me the opportunity to take computer science classes, which has benefitted us both."
His computer savvy has proved invaluable for the department and for the hospitals. He wrote a computer program to improve the efficiency of the clinic's patient-scheduling system and another one that allows the department to interface with the hospital's new electronic medical record system called EPIC. He created a departmental web site in the 1980s and set up one of the hospital's first Ethernet systems. He built a database of ophthalmic images that has been used by researchers to write hundreds of peer-reviewed publications over the years, and also created a program that incorporates bar codes into patient demographic labels.
"I sort of look around and if I see something that isn't very efficient, I say, 'Let's make it better,'" says Montague, who wanted to be an electrical engineer when he was growing up. "I'm motivated by making things better, and I like the idea of having a machine do things that people can't do as efficiently. And when machines do something bad, it makes me mad."
This motivation also applies to Montague's pursuits outside of work. In addition to his gratis gridiron gig, for which the athletics department makes an annual donation in his name to the UI Foundation, Montague is an accomplished carpenter and an avid kayaker. And, in another pastime picked up from his father, he plays the organ, and twice has been instrumental in the refurbishment of the Paramount Theatre organ in downtown Cedar Rapids—both before and after the flood of 2008.
Thomas A. Weingeist, professor emeritus of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the Carver College of Medicine and former department chair, says hiring Montague was one of the best things anyone could have done at the University.
"Paul is truly the most remarkable person I know—the variety of skills he has and the things he has accomplished are extraordinary," Weingeist says. "As an ophthalmic photographer prior to the digital age, he created a processing system that enabled us to have photographic images processed in a nearly automatic system within an hour and also programmed a system to check and restore the chemistry of the solutions—things nobody else could do at the time. He has tremendously improved efficiency in our department, and everything he does he does at the highest level."
story by Sara Epstein Moninger; photo by Brice Critser
July 26, 2010