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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print display of images that are available on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about medical pictures that are historic, and when and in what media it is proper to look at them. It is one thing to take a beautifully bound book apart into a silent armchair and have a one-on-one encounter with with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumor, or the face of an infant wizened by tertiary syphilis. It's another to see the same faces detached from the context of Barnett and flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images -providing scholarship.
The Sick Rose is formed by afflictions, the majority of which are now rare in the Western world: cholera, gout, tuberculosis, advanced stages of syphilis. Online, the patients' anguish runs the danger of being seen as vintage"---almost amusing in its awful extremity and its space from our own time. In a blog post about the procedure for assembling and later promoting The Sick Rose, Barnett acknowledged to a feeling of unease" about sending the images away into the world, worrying about the kitsch, understanding, and emptily ironized approach" that could greet the pictures. (When Wired ran a slideshow of pictures from Sick Rose in May, for instance, it was headlined Awesomely Gross Medical Illustrations From the 19th Century") Over Skype, Barnett told me: These are all pictures of something that happened to someone somewhere. They're not visualized."
As historical medical images go digital, scholars and archivists are being compelled to consider the advantages of disseminating the undoubtedly significant and interesting record of the progression of medical practice with concerns the images will likely be misunderstood and misused. Making the pictures available will probably cause some tone deaf uses and regard at best---exploiting the shock value of an at body disfigured face or On the other hand, digitization of the types of images that were once available only to researchers with the means to travel to archives can do plenty of good. Such visibility can raise awareness about past wrongs, ease the families of former patients and also links between historians , even provide us with a new way to think of our own mortality. (Because there are great arguments on both sides, and because these medical images could be disturbing to some readers, we have chosen to place the photographs we are publishing with this particular post behind an electronic scrim, allowing you, the reader, to decide whether to view them.)
Here's one instance that shows how far such digitized photos can slip from their circumstances. Art historian Suzannah Biernoff has written about the fate of a group of patient pictures from the Gillies Archives These are the World War I-era records of Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, in the U.K., where plastic surgeon Harold Gillies headed a specific unit treating injuries that demanded maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned photographers and artists to document his patients' presurgical injuries, using the pictures to plan his team's strategy.
These photos ended up on the Web as a portion of a mid-2000s exhibit titled Project Faade (now archived through the Wayback Machine ). The project, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust's SciArt Production Award, was a cooperation among artist Paddy Hartley; Dr. Andrew Bamji, a rheumatologist who acts as curator of the Gillies Archives; and Dr. Ian Thompson, a surgeon and designer of facial implants. The art that Hartley made with inspiration from these archives later formed the foundation of an exhibition at London's National Army Museum. The project, Hartley writes on his web site , was intended to learn more about the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial operations on their lives.
Following the exhibition had closed nevertheless, the digital images had another life. Some pictures from the Project Faade archive ended up used in the plan of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. One of the patients in the photos, a pilot trainee, Henry Lumley, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his injury for a year before being declared to Gillies' attention. Lumley died at age 26, of postoperative complications. (Here's his page on the Project Faade site And here's a picture of the BioShock character in question) Lumley and his fellow patients are now compelled to wander about in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std Test nearby Marshall. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players will never understand who these guys were in real life? Biernoff writes that British culture during the World War I perceived death in battle as glorious, but facial mutilation was seen as nearly black---a fate worse than death"---and images of soldiers injured in this manner were censored, lest they diminish morale. So even if gamers never understand the characters they're seeing on screen were once real guys, it can nevertheless feel when they are trotted out as digitized monsters, like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Marshall AK, United States std test. As Wellcome Library archivist Natalie Walters pointed out in a post on the connection between BioShock and also the Gillies Archive: That almost 100 years after comparable images are used to frighten people in a computer game, gives us a glance into what life must have been like for people who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She includes: How brave these men were to permit themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to get treatments that often made them look worse before they seemed better.")
Std Test closest to Marshall. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over e-mail that he approached the game's programmers after finding out about this use and succeeded in contacting one. I pointed out that using identifiable men in the context of the game was an appalling method to treat the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such images would be utilized, and there the matter ended." Bamji drew a clear distinction between the use of such images in a project like BioShock, where they were disassociated from the names and stories of the patients, and the Project Faade of Hartley. Std test near Alaska. I have no problem with the display of pictures in a historic context, as without this people do not understand what war can do."
Should we confine access to upsetting digital images to folks who we can be certain will perceive them in appropriate context? Michael Sappol , a historian at the U.S. National Library of Medicine who has written about historical and modern medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital groups have recently posted a series of hushed medical films from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which represent what Sappol calls difficult themes": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 film made at Cook County Hospital in Chicago , which shows four kids who are dying of rabies. Struggle, the patients convulse, bleed from the mouth; they are inconsolable, even as gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them or offer them water.
Sappol doesn't believe it should be the occupation of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can't handle looking at images that are such. We are stewards of these historical materials," he told me. They don't belong to us. They belong to everybody. ... I would not like to act on behalf of the subjects and arrogate to myself the occupation of being some type of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy movies from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the men and women in this film ... appear like they surely don't consent to the procedure, also it is upsetting to see. I could say 'This man doesn't desire to be on camera, they're being humiliated.' But this is something we can learn from. If we never get to see this, who gets to know?" The curiosity we feel about such pictures, he claims, isn't black, but only human.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that visibility is preferred by some subjects. This really is the situation with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which includes medical case files on individuals produced withsevere birth defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide to relieve symptoms of morning sickness in the late 1950s-early-1960s," Wellcome archivist Helen Wakely wrote to me. The viewpoints of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files fluctuate widely, but some definitely need their files and images made available for research as a willful act to open up discussion."Of course, there is no method to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they'd prefer to be viewed or stay hidden. But the modern example of thalidomide reveals that we shouldn't presume that publication is tantamount to infringement.
Nor should we assume the Web is a serious medium than the bound-and- book that is printed. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is additionally a digital historian committed to making her sources freely accessible. Marshall, AK Std Test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when requested to collaborate on a slideshow of lobotomy pictures with a producer at NPR's show Science Friday. Neurologist Walter Freeman, who carried out more than 3,500 of the processes, photographed and filmed his patients before and after their surgeries.
But Posner ultimately went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by asking audiences to choose a second look at the before" pictures of patients, which Freeman presented for his own goals as broken," she may be able to reveal that these faces include more possibilities than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on the post of Posner wrote that he had recently discovered that his grandpa, who he had never met, had been institutionalized and lobotomized in West Virginia, where Freeman did some of his work. The commenter wrote: I do not care if it is an image of him having this done I merely want and desire to see a picture of him so MUCH, and I have not seen an image of my grandfather, never, ever. Can you tell me the best way to get to these archives?" If Posner had not gone ahead with Science Friday, it might have been considerably harder for the commenter to find her; the link might not have been made. Std Test near me Marshall.
Finally, there is a religious argument for making such pictures available. AK United States Std Test. Even if medical pictures might be misused, Michael Sappol says, I don't want that chance to prevent these things that are actually amazing documents of the human experience from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they are able to redeem us in some way. They are able to provide us with some form of program of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, agrees on this particular point: There is a power behind these pictures, there's a power they have over us, and we've got to recognize or respect this at some point." He compares the images to a lay vanitas ," referring to the 17th century Dutch paintings of skulls and other symbols of decay that were meant to remind the viewer of human mortality. For modern viewers, Barnett says, images like those in the Sick Rose might remind us: This is the body, and the conclusion that we all come to."
However, a vanitas requires space for contemplation---a space the Web appears ill to offer. Susan Sontag's closing book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), was composed as the Web was in the process of scattering photographs to the four winds. Sontag wrote that pictures of suffering might be a memento mori " and function as a still point around which to contemplate mortality. But she wondered how this could function---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space reserved for being serious is challenging to come by." If she believed that about art galleries, novels, and television, one wonders what she might have made of Pinterest.
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