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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a good-curated print display of pictures that are accessible on the Wellcome Images site, raises questions about historic medical images, and when and in what media it is proper 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 tumor. It is another to see the exact same faces detached from the circumstance of Barnett and flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated pictures -providing scholarship.
Afflictions, most of which are now rare in the Western world organize the Sick Rose: cholera, gout, tuberculosis, advanced stages of syphilis. On the Internet, the patients' suffering runs the danger of being seen as classic"---almost comical in its dreadful 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 regarding the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized attitude" that could greet the pictures. (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 images of something that occurred to someone somewhere. They aren't imagined."
As historic medical pictures go digital, scholars and archivists are being forced to consider the advantages of disseminating the definitely significant and interesting record of the progression of medical practice with matters the pictures will be misunderstood and misused. Making the images accessible will almost certainly result in some tone deaf uses and regard at best---using the shock value of a disfigured face or body at On the flip side, digitization of the types of pictures which were once accessible only to researchers with the means to travel to archives can do lots of good. Such visibility can raise consciousness about previous wrongs, facilitate the families of former patients and links between historians supply us with a fresh strategy to think about our own mortality. (Because there are good arguments on both sides, and because these medical images may be disturbing to some readers, we have decided to set the photos we are printing with this particular post behind an electronic scrim, which allows you, the reader, to decide whether to see them.)
Here's one instance that shows how much such digitized pictures can slip away from their circumstances. Art historian Suzannah Biernoff has written about the destiny 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 unit treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers 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 via 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 graphics that Hartley made with inspiration from these archives later formed the basis of an exhibit at the National Army Museum in London. The endeavor, Hartley writes on his web site , was meant to explore the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial surgeries on their lives.
After the exhibition had closed, nevertheless, the digital images had another life. 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, a pilot trainee, Henry Lumley, lived with his injury for a year and was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school before being declared to Gillies' care. 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 around in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std Test near Glassell Park. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players will never 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 nearly black---a fate worse than death"---and pictures of soldiers injured in this way were censored, lest they decrease morale. So even if gamers never realize that the characters they're seeing on screen were once actual guys, it can still feel like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again when they're trotted out as digitized monsters. Glassell Park 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 nearly 100 years after comparable pictures are used to frighten people in a computer game, gives us a glance into what life must have been like for folks who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She includes: How courageous these men were to enable themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to undergo treatments that often made them seem worse before they appeared better.")
Std test near Glassell Park. 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 guys in the context of the game was an appalling approach to take care of the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such images would be utilized, and there the matter finished." Bamji drew a clear distinction between the utilization of such images in a job like BioShock, where they were disassociated from the names and stories of the patients, and the Project Faade of Hartley. Std Test in California. I have no problem with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this folks don't understand what war can do."
Should we restrict accessibility to upsetting digital images to people 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 modern medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital collections have recently posted a series of hushed medical movies from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which signify what Sappol calls tough issues": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 picture made at Cook County Hospital in Chicago , which shows four kids who are dying of rabies. Fight, 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 does not believe it should be the occupation of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can't handle looking at such images. We're stewards of these historical materials," he told me. They don't belong to us. They belong to everybody. ... I wouldn't like to play on behalf of the subjects and arrogate to myself the occupation of being some type of policeman of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy movies from the 1930s, Sappol says, A Number of the people in this picture ... seem like they surely do not consent to the process, and it is disturbing to see. I could say 'This person doesn't desire 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 curiosity we feel about such images, he argues, is not black, but just human.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that a few subjects favor visibility. This is actually the situation with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which includes medical case files on people produced 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 perspectives of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files fluctuate widely, but some definitely need their files and pictures made accessible for research as a deliberate action to open up disagreement."Of course, there's not any means to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be viewed or stay concealed. But the modern case of thalidomide demonstrates that we shouldn't presume that publication is tantamount to infringement.
Nor should we suppose the Web is a serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is additionally a digital historian dedicated to making her sources publicly accessible. Glassell Park, CA 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 pictures that were lobotomy. 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 simply asking observers to take a second look at the before" images of patients, which Freeman presented for his own motives as broken," she may be able to reveal that these faces include more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's place wrote that he'd recently discovered that his grandfather, lobotomized and who he'd never met, had been institutionalized in West Virginia, where Freeman did some of his work. The commenter wrote: I don't care if it's a picture of him having this done I only want and desire to see a picture of him so MUCH, and I have never seen a picture of my grandpa, never, ever. Can you tell me the way to get to these archives?" If Posner hadn't gone with Science Friday, it might have been considerably harder for the commenter to find her; the link might not have been made. Std test nearby Glassell Park.
Finally, there's a spiritual argument for making such images accessible. CA, United States Std Test. Even if medical pictures may be misused, Michael Sappol says, I don't desire that possibility to prevent these things that are actually amazing records of the human encounter from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they are able to redeem us in some way. They could supply us with some sort of curriculum of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, concurs on this particular point: There is a power behind these images, there is a power they have over us, and we've got to recognize or honor 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 also the conclusion that we all come to."
Still, a vanitas demands space for contemplation---a space the Web seems 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 photographs to the four winds. Sontag wrote that photos 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 allowed for being serious is difficult to come by." One wonders what she may have made of Pinterest if she believed that about television, novels, and art galleries.
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