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The experience of looking at The Sick Rose, which is a well-curated print presentation of pictures that are freely accessible digitally on the Wellcome Images website, raises questions about historic medical images, and when and in what media it's appropriate to view them. It is one thing to take a beautifully bound book aside 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 exactly the same faces flit by on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Twitter, in a jumble of other unrelated images and detached from Barnett's context -providing scholarship.
The Sick Rose is organized by afflictions, the majority of which are now rare in the Western world: cholera, gout, tuberculosis, advanced stages of syphilis. Online, the patients' suffering runs the danger of being seen as vintage"---almost funny in its awful extremity and its distance from our own time. In a blog post about the method of assembling and later promoting The Sick Rose, Barnett admitted to a sense of unease" about sending the images away into the planet, worrying concerning the kitsch, knowing, and emptily ironized approach" that could greet the pictures. (When Wired ran a slideshow of pictures 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 pictured."
As historic medical pictures go archivists, scholars and digital are being compelled to weigh the benefits of disseminating the unquestionably important and interesting record of the progression of medical practice with matters the images will soon be misunderstood and misused. Making the pictures available will almost surely result in some tone-deaf uses and aspect at best---exploiting the shock value of a disfigured face or body at On the flip side, digitization of the types of images that were once accessible only to researchers with the means to travel to archives can do lots of great. Such visibility can raise awareness about past wrongs, facilitate the families of former patients as well as links between historians , even supply us with a new method to think about our own mortality. (Because there are excellent arguments on either side, and because these medical images may be disturbing to some readers, we've decided to put the photos we're publishing with this particular article behind a digital scrim, which allows you, the reader, to decide whether to see them.)
Here's one case that shows 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 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 specific component treating injuries that required maxillofacial surgery. Gillies commissioned photographers and artists to document his patients' presurgical injuries, using the pictures to plan his team's strategy.
These photos ended up on the Web as a portion of a mid-2000s exhibition titled Project Faade (now archived through the Wayback Machine ). The project, 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 graphics that Hartley made with inspiration from these archives afterwards formed the basis of an exhibit at the National Army Museum in London. The project, Hartley writes on his site , was intended to learn more about the impact of veterans' wartime injuries and subsequent facial operations on their lives.
Nevertheless, the digital images had another life following the exhibit had closed. Some photos from the Project Faade archive ended up used in the plan of the genetic mutants (splicers") that players of the videogame BioShock must battle. Henry Lumley, one of many patients in the photos, a pilot trainee, lived with his injury for a year and was injured on the day of his graduation from flying school before being admitted to Gillies' care. Lumley died of postoperative complications, at age 26. (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 roam around in virtual space, made into monsters for the amusement of gamers.
Std test nearest Pennsville. 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 departure in battle as glorious, but facial mutilation was seen as nearly black---a fate worse than death"---and images 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 real men, it can nevertheless feel when they're trotted out as digitized monsters, like these guys, ostracized in life, are being wronged again. Pennsville NJ 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 after similar pictures are used to frighten folks in a computer game, gives us a glance into what life must have been like for individuals who sustained such disfiguring injuries." (She adds: How brave these men were to let themselves to be photographed with extensive injuries, and to experience treatments that often made them look worse before they seemed better.")
Std Test in Pennsville. Dr. Andrew Bamji, the Gillies Archives' curator, told me over e-mail that he approached the game's developers after finding out about this use and succeeded in contacting one. I pointed out that the use of identifiable men in the context of the game was an appalling approach to take care of the memory of veterans," Bamji wrote. He apologized and assured me that no additional such pictures would be used, and there the matter finished." Bamji drew a clear distinction between the usage of such pictures in a job like BioShock, where they were disassociated from the names and narratives of the patients, and the Project Faade of Hartley. Std Test near New Jersey. I have no issue with the display of pictures in a historical context, as without this people don't comprehend what war can do."
Should we restrict 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 contemporary medical display, has an argument to the contrary. The NLM's digital collections have lately posted a number of hushed medical films from between 1929 and 1945 , a few of which represent what Sappol calls difficult issues": leprosy, electroshock, schizophrenia. Sappol mentions, in particular, this 1929 picture 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 gloved adult hands reach from off screen to hold them or offer them water.
Sappol does not believe it should be the occupation of the librarian or archivist to decide that the people can not handle looking at such images. We are stewards of these historical materials," he told me. They do not belong to us. They belong to everybody. ... I wouldn't like to act on behalf of the areas and arrogate to myself the occupation of being some sort of policeman of 'who can view.' " With the NLM's electroshock therapy films from the 1930s, Sappol says, Some of the folks in this picture ... seem like they surely do not consent to the process, plus it's upsetting to see. I could say 'This individual doesn't 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 interest we feel about such pictures, he claims, isn't black, but merely 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 people born withsevere birth defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide to alleviate symptoms of morning sickness in the late 1950s-early-1960s," Wellcome archivist Helen Wakely wrote to me. The perspectives of thalidomiders themselves on what should happen with their case files vary widely, but some definitely want their files and pictures made available for research as a deliberate action to open up discourse."Of course, there's not any way to ask the patients whose bodies appear in The Sick Rose whether they would prefer to be viewed or remain concealed. But the modern example of thalidomide shows that we should not assume that publication is tantamount to breach.
Nor should we suppose the Web is a less serious medium than the bound-and- printed book. Historian Miriam Posner, who wrote her dissertation on medical filmmaking, is additionally a digital historian committed to making her sources freely accessible. Pennsville NJ 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 photographs that were lobotomy. 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 finally went ahead with the Science Friday slideshow, reasoning that by simply asking observers to choose a second look at the before" images of patients, which Freeman presented for his own motives as broken," she may manage to show that these faces feature more possibilities than Freeman ever saw." A commenter on Posner's post wrote that he'd recently learned that his grandpa, lobotomized and who he had never met, had been institutionalized in West Virginia. The commenter wrote: I have not seen an image of my grandpa, never, ever, and I don't care if it is a picture of him having this done I merely want and need to see a picture of him so MUCH. Can you tell me how to get to these archives?" It might have been much tougher for the commenter to locate her if Posner had not gone ahead with Science Friday; the link mightn't have been made. Std Test near Pennsville.
Eventually, there is a spiritual argument for making such pictures accessible. NJ, United States std test. Even if medical pictures may be abused, Michael Sappol says, I really don't want that chance to prevent these things that are actually amazing files of the human experience from being seen. ... We can learn from them, they are able to redeem us in some way. They are able to provide us with some type of program 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 images, there is a power they have over us, and we've got to acknowledge or honor 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 Actually the body, along with the end that we all come to."
Still, a vanitas needs space for contemplation---a space the Web looks ill to offer. Susan Sontag's closing book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), was written as the Web was in the method of scattering photos to the four winds. Sontag wrote that photographs of suffering might be a memento mori " and function as a still point around which to consider mortality. But she wondered how this could 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 art galleries, books, and television, one wonders what she might have made of Pinterest.
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