Picturing the unusual: Uncertainty in the historiography of medical photography

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Abstract

The paper explores and expands the historiography of medical photography. First, it revisits historical scholarship on medical photography to demonstrate the absence of a consensus as to what counts as medical photography and what does not. Second, the paper illustrates the shortcomings of current analytical perspectives with two examples. The first picture was taken by the board of health in Honolulu in 1900 to visualise bubonic plague but resists recognition as a medical representation. The second, a 1987 picture of a person with AIDS, has been perceived as a medicalised photograph contrary to the artist’s intention. Both pictures, rather than delivering diagnostic inferences sustained notions of uncertainty and unusualness. With these examples, I outline the often overlooked significance of picturing uncertainty in the historiography of medical photography. Finally, I ask if these visualisations might be better addressed as elements of experimental systems rather than as representations of disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhkz108
Pages (from-to)375 - 398
Number of pages24
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Volume34
Issue number2
Early online date18 Nov 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Keywords

  • medical photography
  • AIDS
  • plague
  • experimental system

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