History through the lens: Veteran photographer retires after 36 years

After nearly four decades of photographing the faces and events of Penn State, Darrell Peterson is trading project management in the studio for projects around the house. He is retiring in December but shared some of the favorite images he took during his 36-year career in this photo gallery:

Alan Brechbill, president of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said Peterson has photographed the organization’s history, and that institutional memory won’t be easily replaced. “(Darrell) knows us so well and is so proud of this place,” Brechbill said. “He made it a passion to paint us in the best light possible.”

Over the years, Peterson has gone up in the Life Lion helicopter to take aerial photographs and scrubbed into ORs to document unusual cases for educational and research purposes.

His most memorable work, Peterson said, involves children. “There’s bad memorable, like when you have to photograph nonaccidental injuries for a patient’s record, and good memorable, like when I get to take photos for Children’s Miracle Network and Four Diamonds,” he said.

Born in Erie, Peterson moved to Lebanon County with his family when he was in high school. After taking some accounting courses in college for a year, he quit and worked a string of jobs that ranged from convenience store manager to flower delivery driver. When he went back to school to major in the sciences, and courses he needed weren’t open, he filled the hole in his schedule with a photography class.

“I enjoyed photography and, after taking an organic chemistry class, realized I wasn’t that good at memorizing material,” Peterson said. “I’m more of a hands-on doer, so I shifted to the communications media program with a concentration in photography.”

After earning his degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Peterson completed a summer internship at Penn State College of Medicine. He then managed a camera shop for six months until a job as a photography technician opened up at the College of Medicine in 1981.

He spent his days developing photos in a basement darkroom at the intersection of the College of Medicine and the Medical Center. Peterson next got a job on Penn State’s Middletown campus, where he worked for 13 years, then his previous job reopened on the Hershey campus.

Darkrooms morphed into digital photography, and the hours Peterson used to spend developing film, making prints and creating components for posters turned into more time behind the camera.

The Medical Center and College of Medicine were growing, and there were more faces for him to photograph: more medical students, more residents, more new employees. The work came in waves, with seasonal predictability: physician assistant students in May, right after graduation, new residents in June, followed by medical students in July and nursing students in August.

Read more about Darrell’s career in this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated December 29, 2017