Healing power of art on display at BCM's Parkinson's clinic

Oct. 1, 2011

A guest the reception for the photography installation at BCM’s Parkinson Disease Center examines a piece of artwork.
A guest at the reception for the photography installation at BCM’s Parkinson Disease Center examines a piece of artwork.

You can't help but notice the burst of colors when you walk through the doors of the Parkinson Disease Center and Movement Disorder Clinic at BCM.

Bright blues and radiant reds are the backdrop to some of nature's offerings captured in images by Houston photographer Robert Flatt. As a gift, Flatt donated more than 30 nature photographs he has taken in Houston and around the world to the clinic.

His goal was to create an interesting and natural setting for patients. Flatt can attest to the importance of a relaxed and approachable environment because he too is a patient of the clinic.

"Our patient care involves not only treating the illness, but also creating a space for those who come to our clinic to feel welcome and able to heal," said Dr. Joseph Jankovic, founder and director of the PDCMDC. "We are very thankful to Mr. Flatt for allowing us and those with neurological issues to enjoy his work and to show others a different way to work through an illness."

How it began

Photographer and Parkinson disease patient Robert Flatt and Dr. Joseph Jankovic.
Photographer and Parkinson disease patient Robert Flatt, left, and Dr. Joseph Jankovic.

Flatt was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1999. After his diagnosis he decided to take a class at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. That is when he discovered the healing power of art.

"My diagnosis was the start of my photography career," said Flatt. "I found a new way to relax, enjoy and continue to contribute to life."

Once he became a patient of Jankovic, a friendship was born and Flatt began giving him personal gifts of his prints.

"I wanted to share with others what has brought me great joy, as well as show my thanks to what this center has given me," Flatt said.

Giving thanks

A diagnosis of any disease comes with a flood of emotions. Flatt chose to view his diagnosis as a gift.

"I'm thankful for Parkinson's disease. It gave me the gift of time, the awareness of it and the ability to appreciate what I had left. It gave me the gift of photography and a lifelong friend in Jankovic," he said.

His pictures, whether they are of flowers on an Indian Ocean island, cranes in Japan or honeybees in his own backyard in Houston, are a way for Flatt to celebrate life.

Sharing life

With the help of Dr. Eli Mizrahi, professor and chair of neurology at BCM, and generous donors, Flatt's photographs are now permanent installations in the lobby and clinic rooms of the clinic.

An opening reception was held Sept. 16 to showcase the images. Surrounded by family, friends and supporters, Flatt was honored and his work celebrated.

"Parkinson's disease and photography have opened my eyes to the wonderful things life offers, and you don't have to travel the world. It is in your own backyard."