May 9, 2017

Barry Fleisher knows a thing or two about follow-up. In his 15-year career as a neonatologist specializing in newborn intensive care at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, he helped develop a high-risk infant follow-up program. The program recognized that the end of each baby’s hospital stay was the beginning of the rest of his or her life, and made sure that infants and children grew and developed healthily after they left the hospital.

After retiring in 2003, Fleisher focused on another passion, photography. Attracted to the idea of capturing beauty in hidden places and telling stories through a series of work, he wound up in places where he genuinely enjoyed being, whether it was a coastal fishing village on the Peninsula or the bustling streets of San Francisco.

It was serendipity when he realized his former home, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, was expanding. Scheduled for opening in 2017, the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford expansion project will more than double the size of the current facility, adding 521,000 sq. ft. and allowing the hospital to meet increased demand for pediatric and obstetric care as the Bay Area population grows. Returning to document the work at the institution he cares for so deeply, Fleisher began to photograph construction progress once a week at the project starting in March 2014. 

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Fleisher’s photo of a daylong demobilization of a tower crane was one of the winners of ENR’s 2016 “Year in Construction” photo contest. Photo courtesy of Barry Fleisher

Trained by DPR in jobsite safety and always accompanied by a spotter, Fleisher has captured the physical intensity, the humanity as well as the details of building. His photo of the daylong demobilization of a tower crane was one of the winners of ENR’s 2016 “Year in Construction” photo contest.

With a father, brother and uncle who were in the construction business, Fleisher helped with construction and land surveying jobs during summers in high school and college. Construction is in his blood, and he remains fascinated by the level of complexity and detail that goes into making structures that serve a purpose, that support life. From his perspective of patient care, along with his past medical research on the behavior and development of pre-term infants, Fleisher is especially attentive to the importance of environment in healing.

“The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford team is putting an incredible amount of thought and detail into making sure the space puts family first and whenever possible, brings nature into the healing process. Although the workers I meet onsite won’t be involved in patient care, their role in creating a space that will help sick kids feel better is extraordinarily important to them,” Fleisher said. “It adds to the spirit that is literally built into the hospital, brick by brick, by their effort and dedication.” 

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Fleisher captured this image, showing the size and scale of the lobby, including a main staircase in the foreground and steel framing in the ceiling. Photo courtesy of Barry Fleisher

In his observations of building–sometimes for hours at a time–Fleisher gained a newfound appreciation for “the beauty and intricate nature” of construction. With multiple trades working in the same area, all the pieces operate in tandem, like a finely tuned machine, to prevent injury, improve efficiency and successfully deliver a project.

In his photography, Fleisher has always believed in building a series of work that tells a story until it’s finished. When the hospital opens later this year, Fleisher admits it will feel bittersweet to leave the jobsite and the friends he has made there. It is rare for a construction site to be professionally captured in such chronologic detail as Fleisher has, by faithfully arriving once a week, every week, for the past three years–with the same dedication and drive he used to create the high-risk infant follow-up program at the very same hospital many years ago.

Fleisher doesn’t think he’ll photograph another construction project, or hospital project after Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. 

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Fleisher has faithfully documented the progress at the hospital once a week, every week for the past three years. Photo courtesy of Albert Lee

“This project has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. The layers of personal meaning that this hospital has for me, where my life and career were for many years, could never be repeated anywhere else,” he said. “I hope that I’ve contributed to documenting the history of the great things that have, and will, be built here.”

Unlike his other photo series that tell a story until it’s finished, Fleisher’s photos of the hospital actually do the opposite. His photos tell the story of the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford rising from the ground up, and even when the building is finished, its story won’t be.

It’s just beginning.