Max Aguilera-Hellweg has been fascinated by the human body since he first set foot inside an operating room while on assignment in the late 1980s. He likened the experience to "finding himself in the middle of a stage with the president inside the space shuttle. It was like going to the moon." In short: amazing.
He was so intrigued that he went on to not only photograph some 300 more operations for his book, Sacred Heart, but also to attend medical school, finishing his residency but ultimately returning to photography.
When a videographer was needed to document brain surgery on a man suffering from Parkinson's disease, Aguilera-Hellweg's combination of skills made him an ideal choice. He had both familiarity with the subject matter and the ability to guide the other members of the story team—photographer Erika Larson and writer Erik Vance—in asking the right questions and getting in the right position to document what was happening.
"I can appreciate everyone who is in the room," Aguilera-Hellweg says. "As a journalist I don’t take no for an answer—it’s all about manipulating the situation to get more time, to get the person to open up to you. But in the hospital room, I take no for an answer. I know where the lines are drawn. That allows the doctors to trust me."