By Ginny A. Roth
In 1959, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gained the photographic talents of Gerald “Jerry” Hecht. For nearly three decades (1959–1987) Hecht followed NIH surgeons into operating theaters, nurses and technicians into laboratories, and in the footsteps of prominent people in the health industry to prestigious locations, such as the White House, where he photographed Wilbur J. Cohen and his wife Eloise arriving at the White House to take the oath of office as Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on May 16, 1968.
Having started his career in the Medical Arts and Photography section, Hecht documented the Institutes’ public affairs by creating film highlights of research being performed at the various Institutes. In 1973, he settled into what would be a permanent position in the NIH audiovisual branch.
Among his many accomplishments were producing television public service announcements warning the public about health hazards such as high blood pressure, producing stories about NIH for various television programs including Today and 20/20, and directing films of NIH research, including the film Rabies Alert, which was released in 1987, the year of Hecht’s retirement.
Hecht used his photographic skills to make NIH more accessible to the media, and thereby to the public.
For example, according to the NIH Record in 1987:
While working at the AV Branch, Jerry helped support the research of Dr. Gary Hodgen, a scientist formerly at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He filmed the surgical fertilization of a monkey with blocked fallopian tubes. (The monkey later gave birth to a normal, healthy infant as a result of the operation.) His photography enabled Hodgen to publicize his re- search and was later aired on national television.
Jerry Hecht passed away on November 24, 2016. His legacy lives on in the thousands of photographs and films that raised the profile of the NIH during an exciting time in health care, when the fields of heart surgery and biomedical research were expanding. His work revealing behind the scenes and connecting NIH scientists and reporters provides a visually compelling historical record of life at the NIH.
In 2010, Hecht donated a collection of over 500 of his photographs to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) that were taken during his career as photographer at NIH. The collection preserves his efforts through his decades-long tenure to document and interpret NIH research for the public.
The collection of 500 photographs donated by Jerry Hecht can be viewed in the History of Medicine Division Reading Room at NLM. To access other images by Jerry Hecht, explore the Office of NIH History Flickr page devoted to his photography. Additionally, IHM in Digital Collections includes several photographs produced by Hecht, including the most viewed image on HMD’s Flickr site, ”Little Girl Getting New Leg Cast.”
This gallery features a selection of images from the Jerry Hecht Collection.
The Jerry Hecht Collection can be accessed in person in the NLM History of Medicine Reading Room.
Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.