Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Pain, Dentists and Appalachia










Bint Photobooks featured Dr Hans Killian's Facies Dolorosa 
last week and also linked to an Issuu upload of Elisa Primavera-Levy's article on the book. Published in 1934, Facies Dolorosa shows Killian's patients suffering from a variety of conditions. The book is his attempt to show the change in the psychological state of the patient as well as the physical state, to capture the mood or "stimmung" of the sickbed. He was after the essence of the sickness, an imponderable that could also have a direct influence on the diagnosis.

He was trying to use photography of facial expressions and moods to identify the essence of illness - photography as truth. This is what Primavera-Levy says about Killian's work.

"Killian's photographic project raises pertinent questions about medical ethics, patient-doctor relationships, the limits of photography, and not least, about the contextualisation of representations of suffering in arguing for a humanist cause. Yet another crucial issue concerns the reasons why a surgeon with a camera chose to photograph faces in pain."

Primavera-Levy also writes about the conflict between the typological and the humanist, the eugenic subtext of physiognomic typologies and the idea of 'ideal faces' and Killian's near mystical belief in the ability of photography to capture an underlying truth. She also writes about Killian's early adoption of Nazism and how context can influence our perception of the work.  The full article is below.










All this talk of faces and pain reminded me of Broomberg and Chanarin's Trust (the highpoint of which is people going under the drill at the British dentists).


And then I saw Stacy Kranitz's Appalachia story: Regression to the Mean and went over to her website and saw this picture of a kid at the dentist. Which kind of links in to the Good Doctor Killian and Broomberg and Chanarin..



It turns out Stacy didn't like the edit that CNN did. “I feel ashamed and humiliated for trusting CNN. I am stunned that they would take my work out of context,” she said in this interview.

In his turn, Joerg Colberg asked what does Appalachia look like? And that is the question that Kranitz is trying to answer. I like her pictures alot, and I like the fact that she is trying to establish some kind of 'mean'.


But what does Appalachia look like? Well, Kranitz starts her slideshow with this picture.




I don't know, but it kind of sets the scene for a particular perspective. The thing is, I don't really have a problem with that perspective. Just as I don't have a problem with Chris Killip's representation of the Northeast of England or Martin Parr's of New Brighton. Rather I embrace it. It might not be a 'mean' but then who wants the 'mean' if the mean is tedious and boring. Who wants to know what Appalachia really looks like? Especially when that 'really looks like' is up for negotiation in the first place. Perhaps that burning car is what Appalachia really looks like (especially if you're the kid on the car), or does  it really look like that place that Bill Bryson wrote about, or is it that Duelling Banjos kind of territory of Deliverance, or is it something more banal and possibly tedious?


There are photographers that photographer what places really look like, but the work generally ends up being rather squalid in a dull sort of way. That's what Paul Graham does with New York in his latest rather good book, The Present. He removes the Spectacle from the city and makes it look pretty much like anywhere else, anywhere else that is environmentally, socially and culturally bereft at a non-transactional level. But then Paul Graham's Paul Graham and he can do that and it's good that he can do that. But the world would be a terrible place if everybody photographed like him; a place without the spectacular, dramatic and cinematic; a place without the New York that  Lee Friedlander, Bruce Gilden, William Klein, Robert Frank and many others photographed.

So what does a place really look like, what do we pretend that it looks like, what do we want it to look like, what can we photograph it to look like? And what is the effect of the way that we make a place look? Those perhaps are the questions that Paul Graham is grappling with in the Present (that's a big perhaps by the way). And in a very different way, Kranitz is also grappling with the same questions.  





1 comment:

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