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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a good-curated print display of pictures that are available on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about historical medical pictures, 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 quiet armchair and have a one on one encounter with 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 the exact same faces detached from Barnett's circumstance 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: gout, cholera, tuberculosis, advanced phases of syphilis. Online, the patients' suffering runs the risk of being seen as classic"---nearly amusing in its horrible extremity and its distance 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 away into the planet, worrying about the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized attitude" that could greet the images. (When Wired ran a slideshow of photos 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 visualized."
As historical medical images go digital, scholars and archivists are being forced to consider the benefits of disseminating the certainly important and fascinating record of the development of medical practice with concerns the pictures will likely be misused and misunderstood. Making the pictures accessible will almost certainly cause some tone deaf uses and regard at best---exploiting the shock value of an at body disfigured face or worst. On the flip side, digitization of the sorts of images that were once accessible only to researchers with the resources to travel to archives can do lots of great. Such visibility can raise consciousness about previous wrongs, facilitate the families of former patients and also links between historians provide us with a fresh way to think about our own mortality. (Because there are excellent arguments on either side, and because these medical images may be upsetting to some readers, we've chosen to put the photographs we're publishing with this specific post behind an electronic scrim, allowing you, the reader, to decide whether to view them.)
Here's one instance that demonstrates how much such digitized photographs 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 specific unit treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned photographers and artists to record his patients' presurgical harms, using the images to plan the approach of his team.
These photos ended up on the Web as part of a mid-2000s exhibit 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 art that Hartley made from these archives with inspiration afterwards formed the foundation of an exhibition at London's National Army Museum. The project, Hartley writes on his web site , was meant to explore the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial operations on their lives.
Following the exhibition had closed nevertheless, the digital images had another life. Some photographs from the Project 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 photographs, a pilot trainee, Henry Lumley, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his injury for a year before being declared to Gillies' attention. Lumley died of postoperative complications, at age 26. (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 forced to drift about in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std Test near Seward. Does this issue, given that many (most?) BioShock players WOn't ever 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 almost black---a fate worse than death"---and pictures of soldiers injured in this manner were censored, lest they decrease morale. So if gamers never realize that the characters they're seeing on screen were once actual men, it can nevertheless feel when they are trotted out as digitized monsters, like these guys, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Seward IL 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 later comparable images are used to frighten folks 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 experience treatments that often made them seem worse before they looked better.")
Std Test nearest Seward. 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 circumstance of the game was an appalling approach to treat the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such pictures would be used, and there the matter ended." Where they were disassociated from the names and stories of the patients, and Hartley's Project Faade Bamji drew a clear distinction between the usage of such pictures in a project like BioShock. Std test closest to Illinois. I have no problem with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this folks do not comprehend what war can do."
Should we confine accessibility to upsetting digital images to individuals 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 historic and contemporary medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital sets have lately posted a string of silent medical films from between 1929 and 1945 , some of which represent what Sappol calls challenging themes": 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 offer them water or gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them.
Sappol doesn't believe it should be the job of the librarian or archivist to decide that the people can not 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 act on behalf of the subjects and arrogate to myself the job of being some kind of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy films from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the folks in this movie ... look like they surely do not consent to the procedure, also it's upsetting to see. I really could say 'This individual 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 images, he claims, isn't black, but only human.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that visibility is preferred by some subjects. This is actually the case with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which contains 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 viewpoints of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files fluctuate widely, but some definitely need their files and pictures made available for research as a willful action to open up discussion."Of course, there is no method to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they'd prefer to be observed or stay concealed. But the modern example of thalidomide reveals that we shouldn't presume that publication is tantamount to breach.
Nor should we presume 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 available. Seward IL Std Test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when requested to collaborate on a slideshow of photos that were lobotomy with a producer at NPR's show Science Friday. Neurologist Walter Freeman, who carried out more than 3,500 of the processes, photographed and patients his filmed before and after their operations.
But Posner ultimately went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by asking viewers to choose a second look at the before" images of patients, which Freeman presented for his own motives as broken," she might have the ability to show that these faces comprise more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's place wrote that he had lately learned that his grandpa, lobotomized and who he'd never met, had been institutionalized in West Virginia, where Freeman did some of his work. The commenter wrote: I have not seen an image of my grandpa, never and I really don't care if it is an image of him having this done I need and merely want to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me the best way to get to these archives?" If Posner hadn't gone ahead with Science Friday, it might have been considerably harder for the commenter to find her; the link might not have been made. Std Test in Seward.
Eventually, there is a religious argument for making such images accessible. IL United States Std Test. Even if medical pictures might be abused, Michael Sappol says, I don't want that possibility to prevent these things that are actually amazing documents of the human encounter 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 particular point: There is a power behind these pictures, there is a power they have over us, and we have to acknowledge or honor 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 the body, as well as the conclusion that we all come to."
Still, a vanitas needs space for contemplation---a space the Web looks 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 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 allowed for being serious is tough to come by." One wonders what she may have made of Pinterest if she believed that about art galleries, publications, and television.
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