Medical Histories in Photography and Film

Clephan Building, Tuesdays 4-6pm

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engelmannFebruary 7, 2017 (room CL 2.30)| Lukas Engelmann (Research Associate, CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

Picturing the Unusual: Medical Photography as ‘Experimental System’

What is specifically medical about medical photographs? Clinical photography – the portrayal of disease symptoms – is usually considered to be the typical medical genre, both historically and in the present.  Merely a representation of diseases, these photographs have been shown to contribute to endeavours of classifying diseases, of enabling the circulation of cases and of calibrating and influencing the notion of pathology in medicine as well as in non-medical contexts. I combine research results from my work on the visual history of AIDS with my current work on the visual archive of the Third Plague Pandemic (1894 – 1959) to question the scope and shape of this genre. In both cases, clinical photography has become a contested way of seeing. Photographs of the symptoms of people with AIDS became embroiled in representational politics and bound up in the larger epistemological crisis of medicine in the first decade of the epidemic. Photographs of the Third Plague Pandemic on the other hand, were largely concerned with ethnographic visualizations of the disease’s ecology, while clinical photographs seem to have been mostly insignificant to the advancement of knowledge about plague in the early 20th century.

Both cases extend our understanding of medical photography beyond the clinical photograph. Both cases also demonstrate the extraordinary significance of photography in the formation, production and distribution of knowledge about disease in and outside of medical publications and discussions. My paper will ask how we might be able to maintain a notion of medical photography if it is not reliant on the visibility of symptoms and signs of disease. Employing medical photography as an ‘experimental system’ (Rheinberger) I will tentatively argue for a wider understanding of medical photography as a picturing of unusualness and uncertainty in epidemic crises.

phrc1February 21, 2017 (room CL 2.30)| Dr Katherine Rawling (Associate Fellow, CHM, University of Warwick)

Authority, Agency and Ambiguity: Doctor-Photographers and the 19th Century Medical Photo

The figure of the doctor-photographer is a crucial actor in the production of many medical or psychiatric patient photographs. Frequently with one foot in each of the camps of science and art, the doctor-photographer responded to the concerns of both spheres of discourse in her or his practices. In this paper I wish to investigate a selection of photographers who were also psychiatric doctors, in an attempt to unpick their dual roles and consider how they negotiated or approached this highly ambiguous and complicated task of photographing their patients. How did practitioners reconcile these roles, or did they feel they needed to? What happens to a photograph when it is taken by a doctor? Is the act of photographing approached in a different way? What is the effect on the subject/sitter/patient? Do doctors produce different photographs compared to non-medical photographers? Are their photographs then viewed differently?

As a representation of the doctor-patient encounter, psychiatric patient photographs offer an opportunity to consider issues of control, authority, consent, complicity, resistance, intimacy, agency, the production and communication of knowledge, and professionalization and identity formation. Each photograph produced by a doctor is a visualisation of the relationship between a patient and their practitioner but, also, that between a subject or sitter and their photographer. The images are therefore ambiguous and fluid, with multiple meanings and uses.

child-spectatorsMarch 7, 2017 (room CL 2.29)| Dr Anna Toropova (Wellcome Trust Research Fellow, University of Nottingham)

Cinema and Medicine in Revolutionary Russia

This paper explores the psycho-physiological investigations of film viewers conducted by health professionals and psychologists in Soviet Russia during the 1920s and early 1930s. I trace how the new forms of knowledge acquired in research institutes such as ‘the laboratory for the study of mass behaviour and psychology’ headed by the psychiatrist P. I. Karpov in Moscow gave rise to new models of spectatorship and new filmmaking practices. Bringing to light the dialogue forged between medicine, science and aesthetics in interwar Russia, I seek to expand our understanding of the origins of Soviet cinema’s transition from avant-garde experimentation to Socialist Realism.


In case of queries contact Dr Beatriz Pichel beatriz.pichel@dmu.ac.uk