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Doctor Makes Show of His World Travels

January 28, 1989|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

The slide show is a misunderstood creature. It has a lousy reputation and usually conjures up memories of darkened rooms and an endless array of unedited slides from the neighbor's trip to Mexico.

And then there is ophthalmologist Gunnar E. Christiansen of Corona del Mar, whose slide shows are the exception. His travelogues have attracted thousands of people. His photographic exploits from Denmark to Portugal to France to Scotland have added something extra to the lives of senior citizens.

His philosophy is to bring the world right to their door, especially since these people have, for a variety of reasons, been shut off from traveling themselves.

Christiansen, who was born in Aitkin, Minn., and reared on a small chicken farm in Eugene, Ore., said he spent a lot of time with older people in his younger years.

"Every Sunday we would have some old people--that's what I used to call them--over for dinner," said the 54-year-old photographer. "I didn't always enjoy it at the time. But in retrospect, it had an influence on me.

"Over the last 4 years, in a modest way, I've been doing travelogues for senior citizens," Christiansen said. "I just started it in nursing homes, where people didn't have the opportunity to get out.

"Since I had already done all the work of preparing the darn things, I started to ask hospitals if they would let me use a room for showing some slides. I sent invitations to the senior citizens who were patients. Low and behold, I get about 1,000 people every time I show a travel show. It's very heartwarming."

In the next few months he has eight shows planned.

"What I like to do is show them right when I get back from a trip," he said. "I try to take at least one good trip a year. Now that I've been doing it for a while, people are beginning to expect me to have some good photographs. It's a bit of pressure on me to get it all."

So far, Christiansen has given about 60 shows for senior citizens with audiences as small as 15 and as large as 1,000. He averages two shows a month, mostly in north Orange County, near his Anaheim ophthalmology practice. His upcoming shows will be at the La Palma Royale retirement center on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m., the Walnut Manor retirement center on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. and Anaheim Memorial Hospital on Feb 17 and 27 at 12:45 p.m.

Christiansen says that people enjoy good composition in the photographs.

"It's not always important to show everything in a country or city," he said. "People do enjoy seeing quality. They also like to see people doing something."

In his upcoming show about France, Christiansen's favorite picture is of a young man walking across the street with his arms full of long loafs of bread

An important aspect of travelogue photography is to zero in on your subjects. Christiansen says good pictures can include simple things, such as the kind of flowers unique to an area or a home with unusual decor. He says small details really help when showing contrasting ways of life.

Christiansen says his biggest challenge is to have interesting things to say.

"I work pretty hard on that," he said. "One of the more touching things that's happened to me was at the La Palma Royale. One women who must have been in her 90s came to every show. She was blind and she would sit there and I would talk to her and she would thank me so much. She just enjoyed hearing me talk with such enthusiasm, describing the areas where I've been. I really didn't figure out she was blind until I had given about two or three shows.

"Things like that push me," he said. "Because I know these people don't always see that well. Really, the major reason I got started is because there is a real need out there."

The Photography column, which runs Saturdays in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are encouraged. Write to: Robert Lachman, Chief Photographer, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.

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