About This Show
Academic papers on the history of medicine and medical humanities from the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI). The Centre, founded in 2006, is based in the School of History, University College Dublin. CHOMI seeks to promote the study of the social and cultural history of medicine in Ireland. Its research and other activities are supported by a range of funding bodies including the Wellcome Trust.
Most Recent Episode
Anatomy’s Photography [Audio Only]
This is the audio only version of this talk by Dr Michael Sappol. To see a video version of this talk – which includes the images discussed – please go to our next podcast episode.
Dr Michael Sappol (Senior Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala)
Associate Professor Catherine Cox (Director, UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland)
Anatomy’s Photography: Objectivity, Showmanship and the Reinvention of the Anatomical Image, 1860–1950
UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland Seminar Series, 20 April 2017. This seminar series was funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Historians have intensively studied medical photography — photographic clinics, medical portraiture, forensic medicine, photomicrography, and so on. But missing from that list is the field that for centuries stood at the heart of the medical curriculum, and whose images had a privileged status in the hierarchy of medical print culture: anatomy.
Photography, with its famously powerful “reality effect,” was an emblematic technology of science and modernity. Physicians and surgeons eagerly adopted it, showed an ardent desire to photograph pathological conditions, microscopic views, laboratory experiments, surgeries, etc. The medical photograph had rhetorical advantages, seemed to show the object as if directly presented to the viewer, without any mediation.
But anatomists were slow to embrace photography. When, in the 1870s and after, Nicolaus Rüdinger, Eugène-Louis Doyen and other anatomists finally took to it, they took liberties. They cut, sliced, posed, and lit their cadavers and body parts in odd, idiosyncratic ways. Their photographs were retouched, silhouetted or colored, and outfitted with haloes of captions. The artist’s pen and brush was as evident as the anatomist’s saw and scalpel — and both were subject to an aesthetic impulse. The resultant photographic objects were eccentric, provocative, powerful and very modern. And yet, photography never displaced the artist-drawn anatomical illustration.
This illustrated talk will consider the epistemological status, rhetorical power, aesthetics, and moral implications of anatomical photography as they were debated long ago—and as we debate them now.