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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print display of pictures that are freely available digitally on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about medical images that are historic, and when and in what media it's appropriate to look at them. It's one thing to take a beautifully bound book apart into a silent armchair and have a one-on-one encounter with the face of a baby wizened by tertiary syphilis, or with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumour. It's another to see the same faces detached from the circumstance of Barnett and flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images -supplying scholarship.
Afflictions, the majority of which are now rare in the Western world organize the Sick Rose: cholera, tuberculosis, gout, advanced phases of syphilis. Online, the patients' suffering runs the danger of being seen as classic"---almost funny in its horrible 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 feeling of unease" about sending the pictures off into the world, worrying regarding the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized attitude" that could greet the pictures. (When Wired ran a slideshow of photographs 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 images of something that happened to someone somewhere. They're not imagined."
As historic 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 issues the images will be misunderstood and misused. Making the pictures accessible will almost surely cause some tone deaf uses and respect at best---exploiting the shock value of an at body disfigured face or worst. On the other hand, digitization of the types of images that were once accessible only to researchers with the resources to travel to archives can do a lot of good. Such visibility can raise consciousness about previous wrongs, facilitate connections between historians and the families of former patients provide us with a brand new way to think about our own mortality. (Because there are great arguments on either side, and because these medical images could be disturbing to some readers, we've decided to put the photos we're publishing with this specific post behind an electronic scrim, which allows you, the reader, to decide whether to see them.)
Here's one instance that demonstrates how much such digitized photos can steal 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 specific unit treating injuries that necessitated maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned photographers and artists to record 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 exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived through the Wayback Machine ). The job, 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 visuals that Hartley made with inspiration from these archives later formed the basis of an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London. The job, Hartley writes on his site , was meant to learn more about the effect of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial operations on their lives.
Nevertheless, the digital images had another life following the exhibition had closed. Some photos from the Endeavor 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, Henry Lumley, a pilot trainee, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his injury for a year before being admitted to Gillies' care. Lumley died of postoperative complications, at age 26. (Here's his page on the Project Faade website And here's a picture 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 in Acton. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players WOn't ever know who these guys 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 black---a fate worse than death"---and pictures of soldiers injured in this manner were censored, lest they diminish morale. So even if gamers never understand that the characters they're seeing on screen were once real men, it can nevertheless feel when they're trotted out as digitized monsters like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Acton, CA 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 similar pictures are used to frighten people in a computer game, gives us a glimpse into what life must have been like for individuals who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She adds: How courageous these guys were to let themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to get treatments that frequently made them appear worse before they seemed better.")
Std Test in Acton. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over email that he approached the game's developers after finding out about this use and succeeded in contacting one. I pointed out that the use of identifiable guys in the circumstance of the game was an appalling method to treat the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no additional such images would be utilized, and there the matter ended." Where they were disassociated from the names and narratives of the patients, and Hartley's Project Faade Bamji drew a clear distinction between the utilization of such images in a project like BioShock. Std Test near me California. I don't have any problem with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this folks do not understand what war can do."
Should we confine access to upsetting digital images to people 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 collections have lately posted a run of hushed medical movies from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which signify what Sappol calls tough subjects": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 movie 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 job of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can't handle looking at such pictures. We are 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 occupation of being some sort of cop of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy movies from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the people in this movie ... look like they certainly don't consent to the process, also it is upsetting to see. I really could say 'This individual does not need to be on camera, they are being humiliated.' But this is something we can learn from. If we never get to see this, who gets to know?" The fascination we feel about such images, he contends, is not black, but only human.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that visibility is preferred by some subjects. This is the case with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which features medical case files on people born withsevere birth defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide to alleviate 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 occur with their case files fluctuate widely, but some definitely want their files and pictures made available for research as a willful action to open up argument."Of course, there's no way to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they'd prefer to be observed or remain concealed. But the modern example of thalidomide demonstrates that we must not presume that publication is tantamount to breach.
Nor should we presume that the Web is a less serious medium than the bound-and- book that is printed. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is also a digital historian dedicated to making her sources freely accessible. Acton CA Std Test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when asked to collaborate on a slideshow of lobotomy photos with a producer at NPR's show Science Friday. Neurologist Walter Freeman, who carried out more than 3,500 of the procedures, photographed and filmed his patients before and after their surgeries.
But Posner finally went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by simply asking viewers to choose a second look at the before" images of patients, which Freeman presented for his own motives as broken," she might manage to reveal that these faces comprise more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's post wrote that he had recently learned that his grandpa, who he'd never met, had been institutionalized and lobotomized in West Virginia, where Freeman did some of his work. The commenter wrote: I really don't care if it's a picture of him having this done I just want and desire to see a picture of him so MUCH, and I haven't seen a picture of my grandfather, never, ever. 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 with Science Friday; the connection mightn't have been made. Std Test near Acton.
Finally, there is a spiritual argument for making such pictures available. CA United States std test. Even if medical pictures might be abused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't need that possibility to prevent these things that are actually amazing files of the human experience from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they could redeem us in some way. They are able to supply us with some kind of curriculum of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, concurs on this point: There's a power behind these pictures, there's a power they have over us, and we have to accept or honor this at some point." He compares the pictures to a laic 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, as well as the end that we all come to."
Still, a vanitas needs space for contemplation---a space the Web appears ill prepared to offer. Susan Sontag's final book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), was written as the Web was in the process of scattering photographs to the four winds. Sontag wrote that photographs of suffering might be a memento mori " and serve as a still point around which to consider mortality. But she wondered how this could work---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space reserved for being serious is tough to come by." One wonders what she might have made of Pinterest if she thought that about television, novels, and art galleries.
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