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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 on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about historical medical images, and when and in what media it's appropriate to view 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 an infant wizened by tertiary syphilis, or with a dignified man with a bulbous, untreated pendant tumor. It is another to see exactly the same faces flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated pictures and detached from Barnett's context -supplying scholarship.
The Sick Rose is formed by afflictions, the majority of which are now rare in the Western world: gout, cholera, tuberculosis, advanced phases of syphilis. Online, the patients' suffering runs the risk of being seen as vintage"---almost comical in its awful extremity and its distance from our own time. In a blog post about the method of assembling and after marketing The Sick Rose, Barnett admitted to a sense of unease" about sending the pictures away into the world, worrying in regards to the kitsch, understanding, and emptily ironized approach" that could greet the images. (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 happened to someone somewhere. They aren't visualized."
As historical medical pictures go digital, scholars and archivists are being forced to consider the benefits of disseminating the fascinating and definitely important record of the development of medical practice with matters that the pictures will be misused and misunderstood. Making the images accessible will almost surely cause some tone deaf uses and respect at best---manipulating the shock value of an at body disfigured face or On the other hand, digitization of the types of images which were once available only to researchers with the means to travel to archives can do lots of great. Such visibility can raise consciousness about previous wrongs, facilitate links between historians and also the families of former patients , even supply us with a new way to think of our own mortality. (Because there are good arguments on both sides, and because these medical images can be disturbing to some readers, we have chosen to place the photos we are publishing with this particular article behind an electronic scrim, which allows you, the reader, to choose whether to see them.)
Here's one instance that shows how much such digitized pictures can steal from their contexts. Art historian Suzannah Biernoff has written about the fate of a group of patient images 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 special component treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers to record his patients' presurgical injuries, using the pictures to plan his team's strategy.
These pictures ended up on the Web as a portion of a mid-2000s exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived via the Wayback Machine ). The job, which was funded 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 after formed the basis of an exhibit at the National Army Museum in London. The job, Hartley writes on his web site , was intended to explore the effect of veterans' wartime injuries and following facial surgeries on their lives.
Following 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. Henry Lumley, among the patients in the pictures, a pilot trainee, was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school and lived with his injury for a year before being admitted 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 compelled to wander around in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std test nearby West Hyattsville. 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 virtually shameful---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 the characters they are seeing on screen were once real guys, it can still feel when they are trotted out as digitized monsters like these guys, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. West Hyattsville, MD 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 almost 100 years later comparable pictures are used to frighten folks in a computer game, gives us a peek into what life must have been like for folks who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She includes: How courageous these guys were to enable themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to get treatments that frequently made them seem worse before they seemed better.")
Std Test near me West Hyattsville. 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 the usage of identifiable men in the context of the game was an appalling method to take care of the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no additional such images would be used, and there the matter ended." Bamji drew a clear distinction between the utilization of such pictures in a project like BioShock, where they were disassociated from the names and narratives of the patients, and Hartley's Project Faade. Std test near Maryland. I don't have any issue with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this folks do not comprehend what war can do."
Should we limit access to upsetting digital images to folks who we can be sure will see them in appropriate 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 collections have recently posted a string of silent medical movies from between 1929 and 1945 , some of which signify what Sappol calls tough subjects": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 movie 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 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 job of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can't handle looking at such images. We are 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 sort of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy films from the 1930s, Sappol says, A Number of the men and women in this movie ... appear like they definitely don't consent to the procedure, also it is upsetting to see. I really could say 'This person does not need to be on camera, they're 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 argues, isn't shameful, but simply human.
The matter 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 individuals 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 vary widely, but some undoubtedly want their files and pictures made available for research as a deliberate action to open up disagreement."Of course, there is not any means to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be viewed or stay hidden. But the modern case of thalidomide shows that we should not suppose that publication is tantamount to violation.
Nor should we suppose 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 additionally a digital historian committed to making her sources freely accessible. West Hyattsville, MD 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 operations.
But Posner ultimately went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by simply asking audiences 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 possibilities than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on the post of Posner wrote that he'd lately 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 haven't seen a picture of my grandpa, never and I don't care if it's a graphic of him having this done I desire and merely want to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me the way to get to these archives?" It might have been much harder for the commenter to locate her if Posner hadn't gone with Science Friday; the link might not have been made. Std test closest to West Hyattsville.
Eventually, there is a spiritual argument for making such pictures accessible. MD, United States Std Test. Even if medical pictures might be abused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't desire that chance to prevent these things that are really amazing files 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 kind of program of human suffering. ... Looking at them makes life richer and deeper." Barnett, despite his misgivings, agrees on this particular point: There is a power behind these images, there's a power they have over us, and we've got to accept 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, images like those in the Sick Rose might remind us: This is the body, as well as the end that we all come to."
However, a vanitas needs space for contemplation---a space the Web appears ill prepared to offer. Susan Sontag's closing book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), was composed as the Web was in the method of scattering photos to the four winds. Sontag wrote that pictures of suffering could be a memento mori " and function as a still point around which to consider mortality. But she wondered how this may work---or fail to work---in a modern society," where space reserved for being serious is challenging to come by." If she believed that about television, books, and art galleries, one wonders what she might have made of Pinterest.
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