Denise Cunningham COA, CRA, RBP, Med
Denise Cunningham is the third of eight children born to Francis X. and Evelyn T. Cunningham. She grew up in Revere, Mass, just north of Boston, and was a student at the Immaculate Conception school for 12 years. In junior high, while enrolled in a drawing and painting class at a local YMCA, she became a serious student of the arts. Her proudest achievement from those early days was an oil portrait of her idol, the legendary rock star, Janis Joplin.
As a high school student, she’d always been fascinated with science but chose instead to concentrate on her artistic interests. As a sophomore, she got her first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, as a birthday gift and became obsessed with chronicling the adventures of her friends and family.
Her second camera, a Fujica ST-701, was given to her by her father as a reward for finishing her freshman year at the Massachusetts College of Art. Although her major was painting, she wanted to learn how to use her camera and registered for an introductory course in photography the following semester. Being seduced by the photographic process, she quickly abandoned her paint brushes and picked up her 35-mm SLR instead, for good. Taking pictures became her passion, as well as her major, and she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography.
Having an undergraduate degree in the field didn’t translate into a photography job, so she continued to toil as a customer service representative in the catalog division of a large retail merchandiser, a job she held throughout college. One day, while walking home from work, she spotted a dead cat on the road and started taking pictures. After making a few exposures, the light bulb went off in her head, and she knew that she would use her camera to make a living photographing biological subjects- dead or alive.
In the fall of 1978 she enrolled in the School of Medical Photography at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. As an extern, she gained specialty training in pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard medical School and in ophthalmology at Tuft’s New England Medical Center. After completing the one-year program, she was immediately hired to work at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where she performed fundus photography and fluorescein angiography. After a year of working in the field, she entered the certification program of the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society and succeeded in passing both a written and practical examination to become a certified retinal angiographer (CRA).
Armed with an education in photography, training in medical photography, and experience and certification in ophthalmic photography, Denise left Boston for Hershey, Penn, to head to the photography section of the then Division of Ophthalmology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. While at Penn State, she worked on a master’s degree in training and development from the Graduate School of Education and became a certified ophthalmic assistant (COA), a certified ophthalmic photographer and retinal angiographer (COPRA), and a registered biological photographer (RBP). Twelve years later, longing for the city, she left central Pennsylvania and moved to Washington, DC to be the director of ocular photography at Georgetown University’s Center for Sight.
In December of 1997, Denise Graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a master’s degree in education (MEd). She continues to study and teach in the ophthalmic field but is also exploring alternatives to western medicine. As a student of the Potomac Massage Training Institute (PMTI) in Washington, DC, she has found that working as a massage therapist is an excellent complement to her work as a medical photographer. When not in school or at work (or writing a book), Denise spends her time with her loving partner and their wonderful daughter at home in Takoma Park, MD.