The University of Mary Washington is a unique meeting place for science and art. UMW’s physician and director of the health center, Dr. Tom Riley, exemplifies the two coming together in full force.
Riley has focused on science and health since his adolescence. After college, he worked at a private family practice for 23 years before coming to UMW in 2007. He has been an artist for just as long.
The enlarged versions of Riley’s panoramic photographs of the James, York and Rappahannock rivers that make up the wall murals in the newly-renovated Mason and Randolph residence halls show how Riley melds his artistic and scientific talents.
“I just take pictures of the things I like to look at. It ends up being mostly landscapes.” Riley said.
The health center and Riley’s office are filled with photos, ranging from a collage of UMW’s ice sculpting contest, a wedding portrait and a landscape of Costa Rica.
The longtime physician looks forward to weekends when he can go away on his 1991 Honda VFR motorcycle to capture nature’s beauty, bringing with him his camera and numerous lenses.
When the project manager approached Riley last fall, asking if he would do the murals, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. After choosing the rivers, he had to figure out how to go from a small photo on his computer to the expansive murals in the dorms.
“I had to do a lot of different things to get those murals to that size,” explained Riley. ”I used software that blew it up simultaneously and put it into individual files that would give an 8 ft-by-104 ft picture with a half-inch over-hang. All told, I gave the printer 28 gigabytes of file.”
Each mural is about 8-ft high. The longest one is 104 feet across. It took 55, digitally stitched together, 18-megapixel photos to create.
The photographs required specific lenses and lens angles, as well as numerous computer software programs, including Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop, to create the mural.
Riley is able to capture detail as a result of his expertise with HDR imaging. He takes multiple pictures at different exposures. Then he creates a dynamic contrast between the lighter and darker areas in the photos. This manipulation of light and shadow allows the viewer to see Riley’s subject matter as crisp as it can be, and even closer to how the human eye would see the scene.
“I enjoy the mental challenge of looking at something and showing it in some way you wouldn’t normally see it,” said Riley.
That attitude is apparent in the distinctive way he captured a waterfall, or the detail that comes through in an image of an arched rock structure in Utah.
Riley’s photographs also line the walls outside his office in Lee Hall. Many feature Lee Hall itself, covered in a blanket of snow or surrounded by leaves.
Excited for autumn to come to campus, Riley said, “It’s hard to take a bad photo at this university in the fall.”