A Lens on Nature

Courtesy of Monica MarcuMonica Marcu's life outside the lab is just that: outside. As a nature photographer, she spends her free time, "all the weekends, all the holidays," exploring the parks and nature preserves in and around the Washington, DC area.After years of taking her camera along on hikes, her husband suggested: Why not be a photographer? Inspired, Marcu set about reading books and taking classes; she studied with professionals and practiced on her own. In time, her technique and her c

Feb 16, 2004
Jill Adams
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Courtesy of Monica Marcu

Monica Marcu's life outside the lab is just that: outside. As a nature photographer, she spends her free time, "all the weekends, all the holidays," exploring the parks and nature preserves in and around the Washington, DC area.

After years of taking her camera along on hikes, her husband suggested: Why not be a photographer? Inspired, Marcu set about reading books and taking classes; she studied with professionals and practiced on her own. In time, her technique and her confidence grew so much that she started entering competitions and submitting work for publication. The more Marcu worked, the more fulfilled she felt, realizing a personal need for art and beauty. "People always try to separate art and science," she says. "For me, [that's] very difficult to understand. It's all intermingled."

Marcu, a pharmacologist at the National Cancer Institute, doesn't view her two callings as contradictory. She studies drugs, drugs are derived from plants, and she "always wanted to study plants." Now she does so through her camera lens. "Any good nature photographer has to be an excellent biologist."

Marcu used to spend 10–12 hours a day in the lab. But, she says, people don't realize what they lose: the other possibilities in life. Science initially attracted her because it was a way to explore the world. But science, in her view, is grounded in precision and critical thinking. Art is "the other side of exploration," she says. "I like the degree of freedom that photography gives me."

Photography complements science in another way for Marcu. This cancer researcher says that to understand disease you must understand health. Art, she says, gives you a picture of "how life should really be before you study a disease as terrible as cancer."

- Jill U. Adams