Doctor “sees” families both in and out of the examining room
by Kate O’Connor
“The doctor will see you now.”
It’s such a familiar phrase: part euphemism, part wishful thinking. When we step into the examining room there’s an inherent desire that our caregiver will “see” us as a complete person — as something more than just our physical condition. And that’s certainly the case for the children who are tended by Dr. Carmen Arkansas Nations, a pediatrician at Cherokee Indian Hospital.
It makes sense that Dr. Nations has a particular affinity for her work. Carmen is a home girl. Born in Asheville, she lived in Cherokee from the time she was four. “My family is Ute and Cherokee,” she explains. “I did my Pre-Med undergraduate studies at Appalachian [State University] and attended medical school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, but my intent was always to come home to Cherokee and work here.”
Indeed, after her residency, Dr. Nations joined the staff of Sylva Pediatrics, where her patient base was predominantly Native American. “I had received a scholarship from Indian Health Services, so my work there fulfilled my service requirements,” she notes. “It also brought me back into the community. What I find truly fulfilling in my work is creating a connection with other people. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with pediatrics in the first place.”
For more than a decade, Carmen has watched local children grow and flourish. “Some of the very first babies I saw are now in fourth and fifth grade,” she says proudly. “Some of the people that I first saw as teenagers are coming back with their own babies. I feel like I’m part of their lives.”
But patient charts are not the only way Dr. Nations documents the progress and development of those around her. When she’s not toting a stethoscope, she has a camera around her neck. Working alone and with her husband, Clay, she captures life’s most vivid moments as a portrait, nature and fine-art photographer.
Moonlighting from medicine in the art world might seem a bit unusual — golfing and boating being the more expected off-duty pursuits for a physician — but Carmen, ever the people person, views her lucrative hobby as a natural extension of her day job. “I’ve always done pictures — always had a camera around. It became a creative outlet to counterbalance how serious my day job is.”
As Clay Nations Photography, the pair specializes in on-location, informal portraiture. “We try to go somewhere familiar, where the family and the kids are used to the setting. Our goal is to try to get the picture that the parents would take if they had all the technical knowledge, equipment and editing capabilities.” And then, “we try to elevate it into something that people will treasure” — a piece of fine art where the subject just happens to be family.
Carmen honed her skills using her own loved ones as models, including her twin sister Kimberly and her daughter Evan, nicknamed “Evie,” who turns 7 this month. (Some of these prints are available on her ETSY site, LucyGrace Photography, which also includes architectural shots from Carmen’s travels and emotive landscapes from the Great Smoky Mountains and South Carolina’s Low Country.) “Many on-location portrait photographers start with their own kids to discover how to capture personality and special moments that aren’t cookie-cutter or chain-store prop photos,” Carmen observes.
Evie, who has Down syndrome, is a spirited on-camera presence. “At a symposium, a father once said that living with his Down-syndrome child was a ‘curve of enlightenment,’” says Carmen. “I agree. As you spend time with someone with Down syndrome, as you come to know and love them, it changes you.
“There’s no pretense. You see things in a different way.”
Visit Claynationsphotography.smugmug.com and Etsy.com/shop/LucyGracePhotography to see Nations’ work.