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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print presentation of pictures that are accessible on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about medical images that are historical, and when and in what media it is appropriate to view them. It's one thing to take a beautifully bound book apart into a quiet armchair and have a one-on-one encounter with all with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumour, or the face of an infant wizened by tertiary syphilis. It's another to see the exact same faces detached from Barnett's circumstance and flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated pictures -supplying scholarship.
Afflictions, the majority of which are now rare in the Western world organize the Sick Rose: gout, cholera, tuberculosis, advanced stages of syphilis. Online, the patients' suffering runs the danger of being seen as vintage"---nearly comical in its terrible extremity and its distance from our own time. In a blog post about the procedure for assembling and after promoting The Sick Rose, Barnett acknowledged to a sense of unease" about sending the images away into the world, worrying in regards to the kitsch, understanding, and emptily ironized approach" that could greet the images. (When Wired ran a slideshow of pictures from Sick Rose in May, for example, 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 imagined."
As historical medical pictures go archivists, scholars and digital are being forced to weigh the benefits of disseminating the interesting and undoubtedly important record of the progression of medical practice with matters that the pictures will be misunderstood and misused. Making the images available will almost certainly cause some tone deaf uses and aspect at best---exploiting the shock value of a disfigured face or body at On the flip side, digitization of the sorts of images which were once accessible only to researchers with the resources to travel to archives can do a lot of good. Such visibility can raise awareness about past wrongs, facilitate connections between historians and also the families of former patients , even supply us with a fresh strategy to think about our own mortality. (Because there are good arguments on either side, and because these medical images may be upsetting to some readers, we have decided to put the photos we're printing with this specific post behind an electronic scrim, which allows you, the reader, to decide whether to see them.)
Here's one case that shows how far such digitized pictures can slip away from their circumstances. Art historian Suzannah Biernoff has written about the destiny of a group of patient images 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 special unit treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers to record his patients' presurgical injuries, using the images to plan the approach of his team.
These photographs ended up on the Web as part of a mid-2000s exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived via the Wayback Machine ). The project, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust's SciArt Production Award, was a collaboration 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 from these archives with inspiration afterwards formed the basis of an exhibit at London's National Army Museum. The project, Hartley writes on his web site , was meant to learn more about the effect of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial surgeries on their lives.
But the digital images had another life following the exhibition had closed. Some pictures from the Endeavor Faade archive ended up used in the design of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. One of many patients in the photographs, a pilot trainee, Henry Lumley, lived with his harm for a year and was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school before being admitted to Gillies' care. Lumley died of postoperative complications, at age 26. (Here's his page on the Project Faade site And here's an image of the BioShock character in question) Lumley and his fellow patients are now forced to wander around in virtual space, made into monsters for the entertainment of gamers.
Std Test nearby Fort Grant. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players WOn't ever understand who these men were in real life? Biernoff writes that British culture during the World War I perceived departure in battle as glorious, but facial mutilation was seen as virtually shameful---a fate worse than death"---and images of soldiers injured in this manner were censored, lest they reduce morale. So if gamers never understand the characters they are seeing on screen were once actual men, it can nevertheless feel like these guys, ostracized in life, are being wronged again when they're trotted out as digitized monsters. Fort Grant AZ, United States std test. As Wellcome Library archivist Natalie Walters pointed out in a post on the connection between BioShock as well as the Gillies Archive: That nearly 100 years after comparable pictures are used to frighten folks in a computer game, gives us a glimpse into what life should have been like for folks who endured such disfiguring injuries." (She includes: How brave these guys were to permit themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to get treatments that often made them appear worse before they appeared better.")
Std Test near Fort Grant. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over email that he approached the game's programmers after finding out about this use and succeeded in contacting one. I pointed out that the use of identifiable men in the context of the game was an appalling way to treat the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such images would be used, and there the matter finished." Where they were disassociated from the names and narratives of the patients, and Hartley's Project Faade Bamji drew a clear distinction between the use of such images in a project like BioShock. Std Test nearby Arizona. I have no issue with the display of images in a historical context, as without this people do not understand what war can do."
Should we confine accessibility to upsetting digital images to folks who we can be certain will see them in proper context? Michael Sappol , a historian at the U.S. National Library of Medicine who has written about historic and modern medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital collections have recently posted a run of quiet medical movies from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which represent what Sappol calls tough issues": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 film made at Cook County Hospital in Chicago , which shows four children who are dying of rabies. Struggle, the patients convulse, bleed from the mouth; they're inconsolable, even as gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them or offer them water.
Sappol does not believe it should be the job of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can not handle looking at images that are such. We're stewards of these historical materials," he told me. They do not belong to us. They belong to everybody. ... I wouldn't like to play on behalf of the areas and arrogate to myself the job of being some kind of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy pictures from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the men and women in this picture ... appear like they surely do not consent to the procedure, also it is upsetting to see. I really could say 'This man does not need to be on camera, they are being humiliated.' But this is from. If we never get to see this, who gets to know?" The curiosity we feel about such pictures, he contends, isn't shameful, but only human.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that some subjects prefer visibility. This really is the situation with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which comprises medical case files on folks born 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 views of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files vary widely, but some definitely need their files and pictures made available for research as a deliberate act to open up argument."Of course, there is not any method to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be seen or remain hidden. But the modern case of thalidomide reveals that we must not assume that publication is tantamount to violation.
Nor should we assume the Web is a less serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is additionally a digital historian committed to making her sources freely accessible. Fort Grant AZ std test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when requested to collaborate with a producer at NPR's show Science Friday on a slideshow of lobotomy pictures. Neurologist Walter Freeman, who carried out more than 3,500 of the processes, photographed and filmed his patients before and after their operations.
But Posner ultimately went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by simply asking viewers to take a second look at the before" pictures of patients, which Freeman presented for his own purposes as broken," she might be able to reveal that these faces include more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on the place of Posner wrote that he'd recently learned that his grandpa, who he'd never met, had been institutionalized and lobotomized in West Virginia. The commenter wrote: I have never seen an image of my grandfather, never, ever, and I do not care if it's a graphic of him having this done I need and merely desire to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me the best way to get to these archives?" It might have been much more difficult for the commenter to locate her, if Posner had not gone ahead with Science Friday; the link might not have been made. Std test nearby Fort Grant.
Finally, there is a spiritual argument for making such images available. AZ, United States std test. Even if medical images might be abused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't desire that chance to prevent these things that are actually amazing files of the human encounter from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they could redeem us in some way. They can supply us with some sort of curriculum 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 is a power they have over us, and we've got to accept or respect this at some point." He compares the images to a secular 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, pictures like those in the Sick Rose might remind us: This Is Actually the body, and also the end that we all come to."
Still, a vanitas demands space for contemplation---a space the Web appears ill prepared to offer. Susan Sontag's final book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), was composed as the Web was in the procedure for scattering pictures to the four winds. Sontag wrote that photographs of suffering might be a memento mori " and function as a still point around which to contemplate mortality. But she wondered how this might function---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space allowed for being serious is tough to come by." If she believed that about television, publications, and art galleries, one wonders what she might have made of Pinterest.
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