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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a good-curated print display of pictures that are freely accessible digitally on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about medical images that are historical, 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 all the face of a baby wizened by tertiary syphilis, or with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumor. It's another to see the exact same faces flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images and detached from the circumstance of Barnett -providing scholarship.
The Sick Rose is organized by afflictions, most of which are now rare in the Western world: cholera, tuberculosis, gout, advanced stages of syphilis. On the Internet, the patients' suffering runs the risk of being seen as classic"---almost amusing 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 admitted to a sense of unease" about sending the pictures off into the whole world, worrying in regards to the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized attitude" that could greet the pictures. (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 images of something that happened to someone somewhere. They're not envisioned."
As historic medical images go digital, scholars and archivists are being forced to weigh the advantages of disseminating the fascinating and unquestionably important record of the progression of medical practice with concerns the pictures will likely be misunderstood and misused. Making the pictures available will probably lead to some tone-deaf uses and respect at best---using the shock value of a disfigured face or body at worst. On the flip side, digitization of the sorts of pictures that were once accessible only to researchers with the means to travel to archives can do plenty of good. Such visibility can raise consciousness about past wrongs, ease links between historians and the families of former patients , even supply us with a fresh approach to think of our own mortality. (Because there are excellent arguments on both sides, and because these medical images could be upsetting to some readers, we have decided to place the photographs we are publishing with this specific post behind an electronic scrim, allowing you, the reader, to choose whether to see them.)
Here's one case that shows how far such digitized photographs can steal away from their contexts. 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 needed maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers to document his patients' presurgical harms, using the images to plan the approach of his team.
These pictures ended up on the Web as a portion of a mid-2000s exhibit titled Project Faade (now archived via the Wayback Machine ). The job, which was financed by the Wellcome Trust's SciArt Production Award, was a collaboration 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 with inspiration from these archives afterwards formed the foundation of an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London. The project, Hartley writes on his website , was meant to learn more about the effect of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial operations on their lives.
But the digital images had another life following the exhibition had closed. Some pictures from the Endeavor Faade archive ended up used in the design of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. Henry Lumley, among the patients in the photos, a pilot trainee, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his harm for a year before being declared to Gillies' attention. 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 compelled to drift around in virtual space, made into monsters for the entertainment of gamers.
Std Test near Orono. Does this matter, given that many (most?) BioShock players will never know who these guys 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 nearly black---a fate worse than death"---and images of soldiers injured in this way were censored, lest they diminish morale. So if gamers never realize that the characters they are seeing on screen were once real men, it can nevertheless feel when they're trotted out as digitized monsters like these guys, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Orono, ME, 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 comparable images 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 includes: How courageous these guys were to permit themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to undergo treatments that often made them appear worse before they appeared better.")
Std test nearest Orono. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over email that he approached the game's programmers after finding out about this use and succeeded in contacting one. I pointed out that the usage of identifiable men in the circumstance of the game was an appalling way to treat the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no additional such pictures 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 the utilization of such images in a job like BioShock. Std test near Maine. I don't have any issue with all the display of images in a historic context, as without this folks don't understand what war can do."
Should we restrict access to upsetting digital images to individuals who we can be sure will perceive them in proper context? Michael Sappol , a historian at the U.S. National Library of Medicine who has written about historical and contemporary medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital sets have lately posted a number of silent medical movies from between 1929 and 1945 , some of which symbolize what Sappol calls tough themes": 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're inconsolable, even as gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them or offer them water.
Sappol doesn't think it should be the job of the librarian or archivist to determine that the public can't handle looking at such images. We're 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 areas and arrogate to myself the occupation of being some kind of cop of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy pictures from the 1930s, Sappol says, A Number of the men and women in this movie ... appear like they definitely don't consent to the process, plus it is disturbing to see. I could say 'This man does not desire to be on camera, they are being humiliated.' But this is from. If we never get to see this, who gets to know?" The curiosity we feel about such pictures, he claims, isn't shameful, but only human.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that some subjects prefer visibility. This is the situation with all the Thalidomide Trust archive, which features medical case files on people produced withsevere birth defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide to relieve 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 undoubtedly need their files and images made available for research as a deliberate action to open up discourse."Of course, there is no method to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be viewed or stay concealed. But the modern example of thalidomide reveals that we must not suppose that publication is tantamount to breach.
Nor should we assume that 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 available. Orono, ME 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 photos. Neurologist Walter Freeman, who carried out more than 3,500 of the processes, photographed and patients his filmed before and after their surgeries.
But Posner ultimately went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by simply asking audiences to choose a second look at the before" images of patients, which Freeman presented for his own purposes as broken," she might have the capacity to reveal that these faces include more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's post wrote that he had lately discovered that his grandpa, who he'd never met, had been institutionalized and lobotomized in West Virginia. The commenter wrote: I have not seen a picture of my grandpa, never, ever, and I do not care if it is a picture of him having this done I only want and desire to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me the best way to get to these archives?" It might have been considerably tougher for the commenter to locate her, if Posner had not gone with Science Friday; the link mightn't have been made. Std test nearby Orono.
Eventually, there is a spiritual argument for making such images accessible. ME United States Std Test. Even if medical images may be misused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't want 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 could supply us with some kind of program of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, agrees on this particular point: There's a power behind these pictures, there is a power they have over us, and we've got to recognize or respect this at some point." He compares the pictures 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, pictures like those in the Sick Rose might remind us: This is the body, and the end that we all come to."
Still, 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 photographs to the four winds. Sontag wrote that pictures of suffering could be a memento mori " and serve as a still point around which to contemplate mortality. But she wondered how this could work---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space allowed for being serious is tough to come by." One wonders what she might have made of Pinterest if she thought that about television, publications, and art galleries.
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