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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 historical medical images, and when and in what media it's appropriate to see them. It's 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 tumour, or the face of a baby wizened by tertiary syphilis. It is 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 pictures -supplying scholarship.
The Sick Rose is organized by afflictions, most of which are now rare in the Western world: gout, cholera, tuberculosis, advanced phases of syphilis. Online, the patients' anguish runs the risk of being seen as vintage"---almost comical in its awful extremity and its space from our own time. In a blog post about the process of assembling and later promoting The Sick Rose, Barnett admitted to a sense of unease" about sending the images off into the entire world, worrying in regards to the kitsch, understanding, and emptily ironized approach" 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 pictures of something that occurred to someone somewhere. They aren't imagined."
As historical medical images go digital, scholars and archivists are being compelled to consider the advantages of disseminating the fascinating and unquestionably significant record of the progression of medical practice with matters the pictures will be misunderstood and misused. Making the images accessible will probably result in some tone-deaf uses and respect at best---manipulating the shock value of a disfigured face or body at 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 lots of good. Such visibility can raise consciousness about previous wrongs, facilitate the families of former patients and also connections between historians , even provide us with a fresh method to think of our own mortality. (Because there are good arguments on both sides, and because these medical images may be upsetting to some readers, we have decided to set the pictures we're printing with this post behind an electronic scrim, which allows you, the reader, to decide whether to view them.)
Here's one instance that demonstrates 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 specific component treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned photographers and artists to record his patients' presurgical injuries, using the images to plan his team's approach.
These pictures 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 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 visuals that Hartley made from these archives with inspiration afterwards formed the basis of an exhibit at London's National Army Museum. The job, Hartley writes on his web site , was intended to explore the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial surgeries on their lives.
Nevertheless, the digital images had another life following the exhibit had closed. Some pictures from the Job Faade archive ended up used in the plan of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. Among the patients in the pictures, a pilot trainee, Henry Lumley, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his harm for a year 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 an image of the BioShock character in question) Lumley and his fellow patients are now forced to drift around in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std Test nearest Delta. Does this issue, 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 death in battle as glorious, but facial mutilation was seen as almost shameful---a fate worse than death"---and images of soldiers injured in this way were censored, lest they decrease morale. So if gamers never understand the characters they're seeing on screen were once actual guys, it can nevertheless feel when they are trotted out as digitized monsters like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Delta CO United States std test. As Wellcome Library archivist Natalie Walters pointed out in a post on the connection between BioShock and 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 folks who endured such disfiguring injuries." (She adds: How brave these men were to enable themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to get treatments that often made them appear worse before they appeared better.")
Std Test nearby Delta. 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 using identifiable men in the context of the game was an appalling approach to heal the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such images would be used, and there the matter finished." Bamji drew a clear distinction between the use of such pictures in a project like BioShock, where they were disassociated from the names and stories of the patients, and Hartley's Project Faade. Std test nearby Colorado. I have no issue with the display of images in a historic 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 see them in appropriate 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 sets have recently posted a series of silent medical films from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which symbolize 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 that are dying of rabies. Struggle, the patients convulse, bleed from the mouth; they are inconsolable, even as offer them water or gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them.
Sappol does not believe it should be the occupation of the librarian or archivist to decide that the people 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 would not like to play on behalf of the subjects and arrogate to myself the occupation of being some sort of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy films from the 1930s, Sappol says, A Number of the people in this movie ... look like they definitely don't consent to the process, plus it is disturbing to see. I could say 'This person doesn't want to be on camera, they are being humiliated.' But this is from. If we never get to see this, who gets to understand?" The interest we feel about such images, he asserts, is not shameful, but only human.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that visibility is preferred by some subjects. This is the case with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which includes medical case files on individuals born 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 happen with their case files vary widely, but some undoubtedly want their files and pictures made accessible for research as a willful act to open up argument."Of course, there's not any way to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they'd prefer to be seen or remain concealed. But the modern example of thalidomide demonstrates that we must not suppose that publication is tantamount to breach.
Nor should we suppose that the Web is a less serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is also a digital historian committed to making her sources freely available. Delta, CO 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 procedures, photographed and patients his filmed before and after their surgeries.
But Posner finally 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 may have the ability to reveal that these faces feature more possibilities than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on the place of Posner wrote that he'd recently discovered that his grandfather, lobotomized and who he'd never met, had been institutionalized in West Virginia. The commenter wrote: I have not seen a picture of my grandfather, never and I do not care if it is a graphic of him having this done I just want and desire to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me how to get to these archives?" If Posner had not gone with Science Friday, it might have been considerably tougher for the commenter to find her; the connection might not have been made. Std test near Delta.
Finally, there's a religious argument for making such pictures accessible. CO United States std test. Even if medical pictures may be abused, Michael Sappol says, I don't desire that chance to prevent these things that are actually amazing documents of the human experience from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they could 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 point: There's a power behind these images, there's a power they have over us, and we have to recognize or respect 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 the body, as well as the conclusion that we all come to."
However, a vanitas demands space for contemplation---a space the Web seems ill prepared to offer. Susan Sontag's closing 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 pictures of suffering might be a memento mori " and serve as a still point around which to contemplate mortality. But she wondered how this may function---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space reserved for being serious is hard to come by." One wonders what she might have made of Pinterest if she thought that about art galleries, books, and television.
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