‘If this doesn’t look like a normal photo studio, it’s because we believe patients should be treated commensurate with the amount of money they are paying doctors,” says David Price, who owns one of the two studios in the city—Don Allen is the other— that take before and after pictures of plastic-surgery patients.
Chinese calligraphy works adorn the walls of the elegant brownstone studio on the Upper East Side, with its high ceilings, large windows, Oriental rugs, and fireplace. “We tart it up,” says Price, “to make them feel special.”
In black jeans and an oxford shirt, Price is part middle-aged rock star, part Vincent Price, with a trace of a British accent. He started out a fashion photographer but disliked the downtime inherent in that business. In his new specialty, he works constantly. “There was one TV actress who used the most idiotic fake name when she came here, but then she paid with a personal check. Then there was a rock star who asked if he could wear a mask so he wouldn’t be recognized. We couldn’t do that, so we wound up blacking out the eye area.”
The idea, Price says, is to give the after shots the same lighting and angles as the before shots. “This is a complaint I have with, shall we say, one of the other medical photographers. It’s not fair to the patient to change these circumstances so the after shots look better.”
Beyond the issue of patient vanity, there are actual medical reasons to take before and after photos. To begin with, doctors use the before photos as a road map for surgery. The twenty-minute shoot involves pictures taken from a multitude of angles, so that even though a patient’s eyes are closed during a procedure, the doctor can see what they would look like open. Doctors who perform liposuction on supine patients use the photos to see how the patient looks standing up. Also, people have a habit of forgetting what they looked like before surgery, so when they tell a doctor they don’t look any different, he can whip out both sets of pictures and illustrate the changes.
New York is one of the few cities where professional photographers are used for before and after pictures. In L.A., nobody wants to schlep in the car to a photographer’s studio, so the surgeons’ nurses usually wind up doing them. “Nurses don’t have a clue about this,” says Price.