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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print presentation of images that are freely accessible digitally on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about historical medical pictures, and when and in what media it's proper to look at them. It's one thing to take a beautifully bound book aside into a silent armchair and have a one on one encounter with all with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumor, or the face of an infant wizened by tertiary syphilis. It is another to see exactly the same faces flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images and detached from Barnett's context -supplying scholarship.
Afflictions, most of which are now rare in the Western world organize the Sick Rose: cholera, tuberculosis, gout, advanced stages of syphilis. Online, the patients' anguish runs the danger of being seen as classic"---almost funny in its horrible extremity and its space 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 off into the world, worrying in regards to the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized approach" that could greet the images. (When Wired ran a slideshow of photographs 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 pictured."
As historical medical pictures go digital, scholars and archivists are being forced to weigh the benefits of disseminating the undoubtedly significant and interesting record of the evolution of medical practice with matters the images will likely be misunderstood and misused. Making the images accessible will almost surely lead to some tone deaf uses and regard at best---exploiting the shock value of a disfigured face or body at worst. On the other hand, digitization of the types of pictures that were once accessible only to researchers with the resources to travel to archives can do lots of good. Such visibility can raise awareness about previous wrongs, ease links between historians and also the families of former patients , even provide us with a fresh method to think about our own mortality. (Because there are great arguments on either side, and because these medical images could be upsetting to some readers, we have chosen to place the photos we are publishing with this 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 photographs can slip away 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 particular component treating injuries that necessitated maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers to document his patients' presurgical harms, using the pictures to plan the strategy of his team.
These photos ended up on the Web as part of a mid-2000s exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived through the Wayback Machine ). The job, which was financed 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 artwork that Hartley made with inspiration from these archives after formed the foundation of an exhibit at the National Army Museum in London. The project, Hartley writes on his site , was intended to explore the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial surgeries on their lives.
After the exhibit had closed nevertheless, the digital images had another life. Some photos from the Endeavor Faade archive ended up used in the design of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. Among the patients in the photos, Henry Lumley, a pilot trainee, lived with his injury for a year and was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school before being admitted to Gillies' attention. 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 roam around in virtual space, made into monsters for the entertainment of gamers.
Std test near Beverly Hills. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players will never know 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 way were censored, lest they reduce morale. So if gamers never realize that the characters they're seeing on screen were once real men, it can still feel when they are trotted out as digitized monsters like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Beverly Hills CA United States Std Test. As Wellcome Library archivist Natalie Walters pointed out in a post on the connection between BioShock along with the Gillies Archive: That nearly 100 years after similar images are used to frighten people in a computer game, gives us a glance into what life should have been like for individuals who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She includes: How courageous these guys were to permit themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to experience treatments that often made them appear worse before they looked better.")
Std Test near me Beverly Hills. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over e-mail 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 further such images would be used, 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 using such pictures in a project like BioShock. Std test nearby California. I have no issue with all the display of images in a historical context, as without this people don't comprehend what war can do."
Should we confine accessibility to upsetting digital images to individuals who we can be certain will perceive them in proper context? Michael Sappol , a historian at the U.S. National Library of Medicine who has written about historic and contemporary medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital sets have lately posted a number of silent medical pictures from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which signify what Sappol calls difficult issues": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 movie made at Cook County Hospital in Chicago , which shows four children that are dying of rabies. The patients convulse, struggle, bleed from the mouth; they are inconsolable, even as offer them water or gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them.
Sappol doesn't think it should be the occupation 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 would not like to act on behalf of the subjects and arrogate to myself the job of being some type of cop of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy films from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the folks in this film ... appear like they definitely do not consent to the process, also it's disturbing to see. I really could say 'This person doesn't want 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 understand?" The curiosity we feel about such pictures, he claims, isn't shameful, but merely human.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that visibility is preferred by some subjects. This is actually the case with the Thalidomide Trust archive, which includes medical case files on people produced withsevere birth defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide to ease 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 occur 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 discourse."Of course, there is not any method to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they'd prefer to be seen or stay concealed. Nevertheless, the modern example of thalidomide reveals that we should not suppose that publication is tantamount to violation.
Nor should we presume the Web is a serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is also a digital historian dedicated to making her sources freely accessible. Beverly Hills, CA Std Test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when requested 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 operations.
But Posner finally went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by asking viewers to take a second look at the before" pictures of patients, which Freeman presented for his own motives as broken," she might be able to show that these faces feature more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's post wrote that he'd recently discovered 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 grandpa, never, ever, and I do not care if it's a graphic of him having this done I desire and just want to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me how to get to these archives?" It might have been considerably more difficult for the commenter to locate her, if Posner hadn't gone with Science Friday; the connection might not have been made. Std test nearby Beverly Hills.
Finally, there is a spiritual argument for making such images accessible. CA United States Std Test. Even if medical pictures may be misused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't desire that chance to prevent these things that are really amazing documents of the human encounter from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they are able to redeem us in some way. They can supply us with some form of curriculum of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, concurs on this particular point: There's a power behind these images, there's a power they have over us, and we have 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, along with the end that we all come to."
However, a vanitas demands 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 procedure for scattering photos to the four winds. Sontag wrote that photographs of suffering could be a memento mori " and serve as a still point around which to consider 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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