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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print display of images that are available digitally on the Wellcome Images site, raises questions about historical medical pictures, and when and in what media it is proper to view them. It's one thing to take a beautifully bound book apart into a quiet 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 is another to see the exact same faces detached from Barnett's context and flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images -supplying scholarship.
Afflictions, most of which are now rare in the Western world organize the Sick Rose: cholera, tuberculosis, gout, advanced stages of syphilis. Online, the patients' anguish runs the risk of being seen as classic"---nearly comical in its dreadful extremity and its distance from our own time. In a blog post about the procedure for assembling and later promoting The Sick Rose, Barnett acknowledged to a sense of unease" about sending the images away into the whole world, worrying about the kitsch, knowing, 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 images of something that happened to someone somewhere. They're not pictured."
As historic medical pictures go archivists, scholars and digital are being compelled to weigh the advantages of disseminating the certainly significant and interesting record of the evolution of medical practice with issues the pictures will soon be misunderstood and misused. Making the images available will probably lead to some tone-deaf uses, lacking empathy and regard at best---exploiting the shock value of a disfigured face or body at worst. On the other hand, digitization of the kinds of images which 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, ease connections between historians and the families of former patients supply us with a new method to consider our own mortality. (Because there are excellent arguments on either side, and because these medical images may be disturbing to some readers, we have decided to place the photos we are publishing with this specific article behind a digital scrim, which allows you, the reader, to choose whether to view them.)
Here's one instance that demonstrates how far such digitized photos can slip 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 particular unit treating injuries that needed maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned artists and photographers to record his patients' presurgical harms, using the images to plan the approach of his team.
These pictures ended up on the Web as part of a mid-2000s exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived via 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 graphics that Hartley made from these archives with inspiration later formed the basis of an exhibit at London's National Army Museum. The endeavor, Hartley writes on his web site , was intended to learn more about the effect of veterans' wartime injuries and subsequent facial surgeries on their lives.
After the exhibit had closed, but the digital images had another life. Some photographs from the Project 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 harm for a year before being admitted to Gillies' attention. Lumley died at age 26, of postoperative complications. (Here's his page on the Project Faade website And here's an image 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 entertainment of gamers.
Std Test nearest Spanish Springs. Does this issue, 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 departure 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 understand the characters they're seeing on screen were once real guys, it can nevertheless feel like these men, ostracized in life, are being wronged again when they are trotted out as digitized monsters. Spanish Springs NV, United States Std Test. As Wellcome Library archivist Natalie Walters pointed out in a post on the connection between BioShock as well as the Gillies Archive: That nearly 100 years later comparable images are used to frighten folks in a computer game, gives us a peek into what life must have been like for people who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She adds: How courageous these men were to permit themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to experience treatments that often made them look worse before they appeared better.")
Std test near Spanish Springs. 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 way to take care of the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no further such images 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 usage of such pictures in a project like BioShock. Std test near Nevada. I don't have any issue with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this people do not comprehend what war can do."
Should we confine accessibility to upsetting digital images to individuals 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 historic and contemporary medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital sets have recently posted a series of quiet medical films from between 1929 and 1945 , some of which represent what Sappol calls challenging issues": 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. The patients convulse, struggle, bleed from the mouth; they're inconsolable, even as offer them water or gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them.
Sappol does not think it should be the occupation of the librarian or archivist to decide that the public can not handle looking at images that are such. 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 play on behalf of the areas and arrogate to myself the job of being some kind of officer of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy pictures from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the men and women in this picture ... appear like they definitely don't consent to the procedure, plus it's disturbing to see. I really could say 'This man does not need 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 understand?" The interest we feel about such pictures, he asserts, isn't black, but just human.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that some subjects prefer visibility. This really is the situation with the Thalidomide Trust archive, which contains medical case files on folks 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 views of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files vary widely, but some undoubtedly want their files and pictures made available for research as a deliberate act to open up debate."Of course, there's no means to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be seen or stay concealed. Nevertheless, the modern case of thalidomide reveals that we must not suppose that publication is tantamount to violation.
Nor should we assume the Web is a serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is also a digital historian dedicated to making her sources publicly available. Spanish Springs NV std test. In 2010, Posner posted about the ethical quandary she faced when asked 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 finally went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by asking audiences to choose a second look at the before" pictures of patients, which Freeman presented for his own goals as broken," she may be able to reveal that these faces feature more options than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on the post of Posner wrote that he had recently learned that his grandpa, lobotomized and who he had never met, had been institutionalized in West Virginia, where Freeman did some of his work. The commenter wrote: I have not seen a picture of my grandfather, never and I do not care if it's a picture of him having this done I need and just want to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me the best way to get to these archives?" It might have been much harder for the commenter to find her, if Posner hadn't gone ahead with Science Friday; the link might not have been made. Std test near me Spanish Springs.
Finally, there's a religious argument for making such images accessible. NV, United States std test. Even if medical pictures might be abused, Michael Sappol says, I do not need that chance to prevent these things that are actually 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 sort of curriculum 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 is a power they have over us, and we have to accept or honor this at some point." He compares the pictures 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, and also the end that we all come to."
However, a vanitas demands space for contemplation---a space the Web appears ill prepared to offer. Susan Sontag's final 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 photos of suffering might be a memento mori " and serve 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 hard to come by." One wonders what she may have made of Pinterest if she thought that about television, publications, and art galleries.
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