Counter Culture


Counter Culture Season 3 Ep. 3

Counter Culture: TOM SHILLEA, a professional photographer whose subjects include President Ronald Reagan, Coretta Scott King, Sissy Spacek, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Mario Andretti and Malcolm Forbes; DONALD MILLER, a historian/author, joins Grover at the counter to discuss his latest book, “Masters of the Air” ; THOMAS WHALEN, MD, CMO at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

AIRED: February 11, 2020 | 0:28:00

[ Up-tempo music plays ]

-Welcome to "Counter Culture," a talk show in a diner.


On tonight's episode, I welcome photographer

and director of art programs at Northampton Community College

Tom Shillea...

-You put the film in the camera,

and you don't get to see the pictures

until you go back and process the film

and then make a print in the darkroom.

That's where the magic is.

♪♪ and history professor emeritus

at Lafayette College Donald Miller...

-Grant's a river-war hero.

He saw these rivers as highways of invasion.

-...and the chief medical officer

for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, Dr. Tom Whelan.

-Everybody I work with has come to their positions

because they care for people, and that's a great thing.

-All right here on "Counter Culture."


Hi, folks.

Grover Silcox here coming to you from Daddypops Diner

in beautiful downtown Hatboro.

When it comes to photography,

we don't lug around a camera anymore.

We pull out our cellphones and snap away.

And that's the difference

between most of us and my first guest.

He's a seasoned photographer who uses a big wooden-framed camera

built in the early 1900s to capture his subjects.

Please welcome photographer and director of art programs

at Northampton Community College in Lehigh Valley Tom Shillea.

Tom, welcome to the counter! -Hi, Grover. How are you doing?

-I see you brought your camera. -I did.

-Yeah. How do you fit that in your pocket?

-I don't. I fit it in a very large case.

-I see. -Yes.

-It is a vintage view camera. -Mm-hmm.

-It uses 8-by-10-inch film. That's the size of the film.

And it's about 100 years old,

and this was the type of camera that early photographers used

before the advent of, let's say, George Eastman

and the Brownie camera with roll film.

So the early photographers were very dedicated

to their art and their craft.

And many of the photos they made

in the early part of the history of photography

are now considered art.

-You see the Civil War photographers,

and some of them were out in the battlefields.

-They were using cameras like this.

-You can't believe it. -Actually, larger.

This is an 8-by-10-inch camera.

They were using 11-by-14-, 16-by-20-,

20-by-24-inch cameras,

and their film was on glass plates.

And these were the photographers who went out West

and documented the western part of the country

before the states were actually formed

and brought their photos back to Congress.

And Congress recognized the beauty and power of the land

and formed all these land grants.

So photography had a significant impact

on the history and the development of this country.

-Now, I always read that the subjects couldn't move.

-Living subjects,

they're usually photographed in a studio.

And they were usually seated or standing,

and they had a brace that you couldn't see in the photo

that would lock their heads in position.

And the reason for that is that the speed of the film

at that point in time -- The film was very slow.

It needed a very long time.

So some of those exposures were a minute long,

two minutes long, three minutes long.

That's why nobody's smiling.

-Why do you work with it now

as opposed to digital photography?

-Well, I do use digital photography.

As a matter of fact, I teach digital photography

at Northampton Community College.

The students are taught how to use the camera as a tool,

as a creative tool,

but also as a tool to document and record information.

They also learn how to use it to shoot video,

because now the DSLR cameras shoot video.

We also have a fine art program, and in the fine art program,

we teach black-and-white photography.

So the students are still using film.

They love it because it's magic.

That's where the magic is.

Because you put the film in the camera,

and unlike a digital camera,

you have to be really confident that you know what you're doing

because you don't get to see the pictures until you go back

and process the film and then make a print in the darkroom.

When you put that paper that's exposed to the negative

in the developer and there's nothing on it,

and then slowly the image begins to appear

like magic out of nowhere, it gets you.

You're hooked.

-But this camera -- What does this use?

-Well, this puppy uses individual sheets of film.

It's called an 8-by-10 camera

because the size of the film is 8 by 10 inches.

So here's a negative.

But the beauty of this is I now can lay this negative down

onto a piece of paper, project light through it,

and make -- It's called a contact print

because the negative comes in contact with the paper.

So you're getting a one-to-one translation in the print

of what's on the negative. -Right.

-It's amazing. -Wow.

-And then I use a 19th-century photographic process

called platinum printing.

So I actually hand-coat my own paper,

and when the paper dries, I put this on the paper,

and then I have to use ultraviolet radiation

to expose it.

It makes the finished photo --

And you'll see this in some of my images.

They look more like a charcoal drawing or an etching

than a silver print.

And that's the quality I wanted.

I wanted them to look like art.

There's a craft to it.

I like this camera because there's an art,

a science, and a craft to it.

It allows me to do those things that I did when I was an artist,

when I was working with paints or when I was working

with a printing press or clay or whatever.

So it kept me in contact with the art side of me.

-Tell me a little bit about the US Information Agency's project

that you undertook in the mid-'80s.

-Well, after I graduated from RIT,

I moved to Philadelphia,

and I started a photography business, primarily advertising,

but I wanted to specialize in portraiture.

And I had an exhibit of my photographs,

all platinum prints and all portraits, at a gallery,

the Rosenfeld Gallery.

Three years later, 1985, I received a phone call

from a gentleman named Jay Garfinkel,

and he was the vice president of production

at the United States Information Agency in Washington, DC.

And USIA at that point in time was basically

the propaganda branch of the federal government.

And it ran all the US embassies around the world...


-...and promoted American history

and America culture and democracy.

Jay Garfinkel loved the photographs that he saw

that I made,

and a project came his way three years later

to create a series of portraits of famous Americans

through USIA. -Right.

-And the intention was to travel the photographs around the world

and exhibit them in different embassies.

And he called me, and he explained the project,

and he said, "Would you like to be involved?"

And I said, "Hmm."

-[ Laughs ] -"Let me think about that."

-Yeah, before you jumped at it. -Of course.

I was still in Philadelphia,

but most of the photos had to be taken in Washington.

He wanted me to use the view camera

and to make platinum prints like the ones he saw in the exhibit.

-Of course.

-So on the list was Mario Andretti, Sissy Spacek,

Coretta Scott King, and President Ronald Reagan.

-Who was president at the time.

-Yes, he was. This was 1985.

When I photographed Reagan,

I was able to actually photograph him

in the Oval Office in the White House.

And that was pretty interesting.

-I bet. -It took half a year

to get clearance through the Secret Service and the FBI,

and they literally checked my background

upside down and backwards.

They wouldn't let me use my view camera

because I had to bring it in a big case with lights,

and they said, "No.

You can't bring any things in boxes or cases

into the Oval Office because we don't..."

-Security risk.

-"...we don't know what's in them."

So I can only bring my 35-millimeter camera

and no lights, so that was very disappointing.


-So before they brought the president in,

one of the Secret Service officers came up to me,

and he said, "There are strict rules

that you have to follow in this photographing,

and one of them is that you can't get any closer than" --

I think it was 15 feet, to the president.

And he said, "If you do, we'll shoot you."

-Is that what he said? -Yes.

So when they bring the president in,

they stand him in front of his desk.

And so I'm 15 feet away, right, 'cause I'm still alive.


-And I start to speak to the president to direct him.

He was very stiff.

He was standing with his arms straight at his side,

his fingers were -- hands were clenched into fist,

and he was looking straight ahead.

-Did he interact with you? -No.

So I started to talk with him,

and one of the Secret Service agents came up to me

and whispered in my ear.

He said, "Tell me what you want the president to do,

and I will go and tell him."

I start taking photos.

And this is how the whole session progressed,

and I had about 20 minutes.

I mean, I knew it was a disaster.

One of the Secret Service agents walked over to me and said,

"Let me have your camera,"

and opens the back of the camera and takes the film.

And I said, "What are you doing?"

He said, "Well, we own this film.

You work for the government. We hired you.

And so everything you have produced belongs to us,

and we're going to take the film and have it developed."

I never saw the photographs.

-And no one ever said anything? -No.

And then, somewhere along the way, historically,

I read that he had Alzheimer's, President Reagan.

And then I realized what was going on.

-Wow. You think that he was suffering from it at the time.

-Absolutely. He just was out.

-Wow. -But then I wondered,

Why would they let me come in... -Go through all that.

-...and spend 20 minutes with him

and photograph him and then confiscate the film?

Why not just cancel the shoot?

-It's one of the great mysteries.

-It is in my career, yeah.

-Tom, I want to thank you for coming to the counter.

-Oh, it's been great. I've really enjoyed this.

-Keep taking those wonderful photos,

and keep helping all the kids at Northampton Community College.

-Yes. Thank you very much. -You're welcome.

Tom Shillea, a photographer

who savors his photos and the stories behind them.

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

My next guest is history professor emeritus

at Lafayette College

and an author who's aimed his pen

at some of the biggest events in American history.

In fact, I just finished his latest book about Vicksburg,

the pivotal Civil War battle,

and I feel like I actually lived with General Grant

and everyone else in that brutal campaign.

My guest also wrote "Masters of the Air"

about the US 8th Air Force over Europe in World War II,

which Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg

are right in the midst of producing for Apple TV.

Please welcome historian Dr. Don Miller.

Don, how are you?

-Nice to see you again. -Wow!

Aren't you exhausted from "Vicksburg"? I was!

[ Both laugh ]

I loved your book. -Thank you.

-And when we got to the siege, I mean, it really pulled me in.

How was it that you coupled Grant and Vicksburg?

Which came first? -Vicksburg.

And I thought it was underrated and undercovered.

And, of course, Grant is everywhere in this thing.

It's his campaign, and it's the one that makes him famous

and the most famous general.

And they bring him east after that to fight Robert E. Lee.

Then he rises to the presidency and et cetera, et cetera.

It's an amazing story.

-The interesting thing is, before Vicksburg,

before the victory, his career was a little dicey.

-I try to build that contingency into the book

and into the story

because, you know, Grant just doesn't become a general in 1861

and then a general fully equipped to take Vicksburg.

He makes a lot of mistakes along the way.

That's a rebel river when the war breaks out,

and the North has to take it back --

the entire Mississippi Valley.

And Grant's largely in charge of the operation,

working in conjunction with the Navy.

-They win Vicksburg on July 4th?

-July 4th is surrender day.

-1863. -Yeah, 1863.

That's the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg,

so there's these twin victories

that really swing the war toward the North.

-You always hear, "Gettysburg was the pivotal battle,

and then after that, it was downhill,"

but you're saying Vicksburg is even more pivotal,

is even more decisive.

-Yeah. I don't want to underrate Gettysburg.

First of all, I love the battle.

I thought years ago about doing a book on it.

I take my students there every year.

But in terms of ripple-effect consequences,

I mean, Gettysburg is a two-day shootout.

Lee comes north, and he's repelled.

He goes south and rebuilds his army,

and he's in as good a shape six months later

as he was when he first got beat by Meade at Gettysburg.


-There are no long-term consequences.

With Vicksburg, the entire Mississippi,

you know, is a Northern river now.

And Grant captures at Vicksburg an entire army.

It's the second time he did that in the war,

and he frees in the process --

He's running a military campaign,

but he becomes an emancipationist

and frees over 100,000 slaves

and puts 26,000 of them over in Union blue as soldiers.

-You capture the personalities of these primary characters.

Grant had a drinking problem,

and it was reputed to be pretty bad by some people.

-He's a high-functioning alcoholic

throughout this whole thing.

He really is.

He doesn't drink consistently, but he controlled it.

He's battling Vicksburg, but he's also battling himself.

-Many of his defenders say, "Well, he never drank

when he had to make an important decision."

-He did once, I found, in the Battle of Vicksburg,

and there was an army threatening him.

He had the city besieged,

and another army under a general named Joseph Johnston

was behind him in the capital of Mississippi, in Jackson.

And Grant feared Johnston more than he did John Pemberton,

who was the commander at Vicksburg --

a Philadelphian, by the way. -Yes! He was from Philadelphia.

His wife was a Southerner. -Quaker.

-Is that right? -Yeah. Absolutely.

And his brothers all served in the Union Army.

Johnston is threatening Grant,

and Grant says, "Let's do a recon in the area

and see how close Johnston is to my army."

And on the boat on the way out there --

they're going through a swamp on a boat --

he has a roaring drinking escapade there.

He has to be put in his room.

He escapes from the room. He gets on a horse.

He has a wild ride through the Union lines.

And it's all hush-hush and was disclosed later on

by a reporter who was with him at the time.

So there was at least one instance

where, in a tight combat situation, he did succumb.

-Right. -Absolutely.

-The whole story about the naval battles

along the Mississippi... -Yeah.

Grant's a river-war hero, and he's not seen that way.

He used two rivers, the Tennessee and the Cumberland,

which are protected by rebel forts,

and he takes the forts along the river

and plunges into the Deep South.

He saw these rivers as highways of invasion into the South,

and he takes them all the day down to Shiloh

which is the name of a battle that took place.

-That was a very bloody battle. -Yeah.

The bloodiest battle up to that point in American history.

More people killed at Shiloh,

more soldiers killed at Shiloh, than in all American wars,

including the Revolution, combined.

-So Vicksburg is kind of a departure for you, isn't it?

-It is. Yeah.

-Your subject has been primarily been on World War II.

-Yes, and even then, that was an abrupt departure.

I had been doing cities. I had been doing Chicago.

I did a book on Manhattan in the 1920s.

and I turned to World War II,

and I did three books on the war --

one on the Pacific, a general history of the war,

and then the latest one in the war series,

"Masters of the Air," the one you mentioned that...

-Yeah. "Masters of the Air."

-...that we're making a film of right now.

-Right. When you say "we," you're talking about?

-Hanks and Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg,

through Apple Television.

It's going to be a nine-part, season-long, as you were, drama.

"Masters of the Air."

That's a strategic as well as a personal story.

And the personal story is the one

that really grabbed my attention initially.

How in the world did they get in those planes

and fly those missions?

The 8th Air Force lost 26,000 killed in World War II.

Now, consider this.

The United States Marine Corps, in the entire Pacific war,

from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, lost 19,800.

And this small air outfit operating out of England,

flying from East Anglia, England,

they delivered a lot of hurt.

In the process of bombing Germany,

they knock out its economy,

but they also kill 600,000 civilians.

But they took a lot of damage as well.

Seventy-eight percent of the men

who flew the 8th Air Force in World War II were casualties.

The conditions inside those planes were pretty amazing.

-And they were flying B-17s?

-B-17s, unpressurized.

So you're on the oxygen

like you're going up Everest at 11,000 feet.

The temperature inside the plane over Berlin in January

would've been, inside the plane, about 60 degrees below zero.

You're breathing through an oxygen mask,

and if you get seasick and vomit into the mask,

it can freeze, and you're not pulling air.

You don't know it, and next thing you know,

you have what they call anoxia,

and you'll pass out within 30 seconds

and you're dead within two minutes.


And it was thought that the 8th Air Force,

they were the only things that would be needed.

We would just bomb them into submission.

-Yeah, but you needed boots on the ground,

and you needed the submarines,

and you needed the fleet and the surface fleet.

It's like, you know, Neptune's trident.

You needed the Navy, the Air Corps, the Army as well --

the entire package to take Germany.

You couldn't just bomb them into submission.

Roosevelt said that one time about Iwo Jima.

When he got the casualty figures, he was horrified.

And he said, "Well, why in the hell

didn't we just bomb them into the Stone Age?"

And the reporter, Robert Sherrod,

who told this to Roosevelt, he was there.

He said, "We did,

but they were in Iwo Jima, and were were on Iwo Jima."

They were in caves underground, and they survived the bombing.

-Is it in production now? -Yes.

-Well, it should be pretty dramatic,

just the story in and of itself.

-We have a great writer.

We have great people working on it.

Apple is very excited about it, Playtone Studios.

-And where are they shooting it? -We'll be shooting in England.

-Where much of it takes place. -Yeah.

-Well, Don, thank you so much. -It was terrific.

-Loved your book.

Keep writing, keeping us informed and knowledgeable

and entertained at the same time.

-Thanks a lot, Grover. I really appreciate it.

-My pleasure.

Don Miller, a talented writer and historian

whose stories connect us to the great people

in transformative events in our collective history.

Among the top issues which concern most Americans today

is healthcare -- No surprise there.

We worry about copays, deductibles,

and, of course, quality care.

But who worries about the patients?

Well, my next guest is charged with that duty

as a physician and as chief medical officer

for the Lehigh Valley Health Network.

He's with me today to talk about medicine, healthcare,

and what it means to serve as a physician in 2020.

Please welcome Dr. Tom Whelan.

Tom, welcome to the counter.

-Grover, thank you for inviting me

to your wonderful, Emmy-winning show.

-[ Laughs ]

Do I owe you anything -- a copay, anything?

Well, we thank you for making a house call today.

It's good to have you.

You know, running a hospital,

it's like running a city, almost.

What's it like?

-So, it's never the same thing.

Any given day comes up with new challenges, and I love that.

It's invigorating, and it's why someone my age

who otherwise, if they were sane, would've retired,

just loves to keep doing what I'm doing.

So it's running hospitals. It's running practices.

We have over 180 practices now throughout our network.

We now have over 19,000 employees.

We have eight hospitals.

I alluded to the practices earlier.

Over 1,200 employed physicians

of all disciplines that you can think of --

preventative care, surgical care,

medical care, delivering babies.

So it's a challenging but very fulfilling job.

-And it all began with your interest in being a doctor.

How did that happen?

-Well, as with many physicians,

family tragedy can spawn a fulfilling, wonderful career.

And that happened to me.

Happened to my brother as well, my one sibling.

My mom, regrettably, had breast cancer.

She had a classic surgical operation,

which we don't do anymore, thank God,

'cause it was so disfiguring.

And for treatment, she underwent subsequent operations.

-How old were you at the time?

-I was 14 years old in Providence, Rhode Island.

I grew up in Rhode Island -- born and grew up there.

At Rhode Island Hospital, she had a surgeon

by the name of Dr. Brian Dorman.

God rest his soul.

And he did an operational bilateral adrenalectomy.

That's how radical the approaches were

to try to control breast cancer.

That was a big operation then.

It's a big operation now, even with laparoscopy

and minimally invasive surgery.

But he would come in in the evening as my brother and I

and my dad were there with my mom to check up on her,

and he would be a commanding presence.

He was in his scrubs, and he had an assurance about him.

And yet he was very warm to my brother and me.

He engaged with us, spoke to us.

And I remember thinking, "I want to be him,"

and I never really wavered from 14 years of age.

I changed a little bit

what surgical field I was going to go in

due to the influence of some other people.

But I knew I wanted to be a surgeon at 14,

and it was the wisest choice I ever made in my life.

So I'm obviously anguished that my mom died in her early 40s,

and yet, of that tragedy, my career was born.

-From medical school, you went into the Navy.

-So I was in the very beginning, in the 1970s,

of what still exists

called the Health Professions Scholarship Program.

The military has a hard time recruiting

and retaining physicians

because of the competitive forces

of what compensation can be gained in the civilian sector.

And so they started this program,

and they entirely paid for the tuition of medical school.

In return, I was indebted to them with years of service,

but I ended up serving well beyond that.

I stayed in the reserves, so I ended up retired

as a Navy captain, serving a good 24 years.

And I went through multiple formal leadership courses.

This was still at a time when I was on active duty

where the communist threat was still in existence.

-Well, was Vietnam going at the time?

-Vietnam had just ended. -Okay.

-I was commissioned in 1973,

and so it was in the drawdown phase.

-It was waning down. -Yes.

How would you say medicine has changed since you began?

-It's said that when you graduate from medical school,

the body of knowledge you've just put blood, sweat, and tears

into learning for four years is largely gone,

surpassed by new knowledge in three to five years.

Now all of those certificates, appropriately, are time-stamped,

and you not only have to retake exams,

there's now what's called maintenance of certification

where every year you have to fulfill

certain volume requirements of the care that you provide,

quality requirements of how that care is being provided,

and also gaining new knowledge.

-I mean, we all hear the complaints,

but what are the biggest ones that come to you

about the system?

-My vantage point on what the quality of care is

is radically different

from what the average patient perceives as quality.

Studies have demonstrated what patients are perceiving quality.

They want friendly service.

Of course. That's a good thing.

They want it being delivered in a clean environment,

and with healthcare, that makes perfect sense.

And then -- it sounds comical, but it's true --

adequate parking to get into the facility.

Those are the three biggies that consumers sort of focus upon,

whereas I'm interested in these risk-adjusted databases

that compile huge amounts of national data,

and I can look at every single one of our doctors

and our advanced practice clinicians,

physician assistants, nurse practitioners

and say, "Okay. They are where they should be

in terms of the infection rates after an operation,

the bleeding that occurs after an operation,

the survival of patients for various conditions."

That's all rigorously benchmarked now.

But quality is a huge focus of what is my purview

in overseeing the network.

-And where do you see it going?

Are we going to universal healthcare?

Are we going to socialized medicine?

Where are we going?

-Clearly, the economics are entirely unsustainable.

Now, I say that a little bit tongue and cheek

'cause I've been hearing that for probably 20 years.

And yet we have arrived at where we have arrived.

But I think we've finally reached the tipping point.

The key element in the transformation of healthcare

that is evolving and necessarily so

is what's called the shift from volume to value.

And when you're running a hospital under volume,

if you have joint surgeons doing more hips and knees,

you do better financially.

The shift is going to value,

and that is providing the right care at the right time

to the right person and doing quality care all the time.

And then the motivation shifts.

So there's some good data that says that good physical therapy

might be equivalent in symptom relief

to a knee replacement at a fraction of the cost.

And so I think we're going to be seeing that shift.

And then, honestly, I think any of my brethren physicians

who might be watching your show are going to shoot me for this,

but compensation is getting out of hand for docs.

Not across the entire spectrum.

God bless the primary care docs, who are under compensated,

but for the procedural specialists,

it's really gotten out of hand.

And I think that's going to have to change.

-I sometimes think in every profession there should be a box

in the application that says, "Do you care?"

-Everybody I work with has come to their position,

whether they're manning the front door

and the front desk and welcoming people

or they're doing

the most complex neurosurgical procedures,

because they care for people, and that's a great thing.

We just got to make sure that they don't get burnt out

and they keep that caring up.

-Why don't we leave it right there?

Thanks so much, Dr. Whelan, for making this house call.

-Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

-Dr. Thomas Whelan, a physician and hospital administrator

tasked with the mission of caring for patients

and the caregivers who treat them.


Well, that's all for this episode.

I want to thank my guests for stopping by --

amazing photographer Tom Shillea...

-Photography had a significant impact

on the history and the development of this country. of "Vicksburg" and "Masters of the Air"

Professor Don Miller... -"Masters of the Air" --

That's a strategic as well as a personal story

that we're making a film of right now.

-When you say "we," you're talking about?

-Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

-...and the chief medical officer

for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, Dr. Tom Whelan.

-The key element in the transformation of healthcare

is what's called the shift from volume to value.

-Check in with us next Tuesday

for great guests and good conversation

right here at the counter on "Counter Culture."



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