See NIH through Branson Brothers' Lenses: Ernie

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ernie Branson began working with his brother Bill as a trans-NIH photographer in 1987, after being at the NIH's National Eye Institute (NEI) for a few years. As a teen, Ernie was a stay-in-school intern at NIH, cleaning cages and working with animals. There he learned about photography from technician Cecil Lee. On his computer screen, shown below, is a photo of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, NIH Director Francis Collins, and President Barack Obama, taken on September 30, 2009. Branson was in the right place at the right time—he wasn’t expecting the trio to come down the hall where he was walking. Read about the visit.

On October 24, 2014, NIH Director Francis Collins led the way as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci walked recovered Ebola patient Nina Pham out of the Clinical Center to a press conference on the day of her discharge. Pham’s mother, Diana (left), and sister Catherine (right) were close behind. NIH photographer Ernie Branson captured the happy moment. Compare this photo to video of the event to appreciate the emotional power of a still image.

We like this photo below of Building 16, the Lawton Chiles International House, because you can imagine what the house looked like to visitors in the 1930s-40s, even though NIH photographer Ernie Branson dismissed his October 2006 photo as just another NIH building. Well, we tend to live in the past just a little.

Sometimes NIH photographers document the lighter side of life at the National Institutes of Health, such as when NIH Director Francis Collins jammed with U2 lead guitarist David "The Edge" Howell Evans on October 25th, 2010. The Edge is on the board of the Angiogenesis Foundation, which fights disease globally. Photographer Ernie Branson has no comment on Collins’ ability vs. The Edge.

The Dalai Lama entranced scientists at the National Institutes of Health during a March 2014 visit with his talk on spirituality and science. But photographer Ernie Branson caught the Dalai Lama being impressed by the strength of NIH police officer Karl Hayes. Read what the Dalai Lama had to say.

Patients are the real rock stars at the National Institutes of Health. In summer 2015, patient Brooke watched therapy dog Juno play “Find It,” searching for treats in her room at the NIH Clinical Center. Learn more about the Clinical Center's animal-assisted therapy program. The photo was taken by NIH photographer Ernie Branson.

And sometimes NIH photographers get to meet real-life royalty. NIH photographer Ernie Branson documented the September 2015 visit of Queen Letizia of Spain. Among other laboratories at the National Institutes of Health, she toured the National Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Oncology Branch where Dr. Lee Helman described the Branch’s work to her. Spain has a long history of collaboration with the NIH. See more images and information about her visit.

Now you’ve seen the basic job description of a photographer at the National Institutes of Health in the best way possible: through images. Do you want to learn new things every day? Do you want to meet everyone from presidents to patients? Are you willing to boldly go where few photographers are allowed to go? Then you might have what it takes to follow in Ernie's brother and fellow NIH photographer Bill Branson's footsteps when he retires in 2016. Maybe. Keep your ties and tripod ready. View some of Bill's NIH photos.

Category: Careers