Mirrors in Early Clinical Photography

February 1, 2016 § 4 Comments


Left: Wikimedia Commons. Right: National Museum of Health and Medicine. Creative Commons.

I have published a paper in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine called Mirrors in Early Clinical Photography (1862-1882): A Descriptive Study.

In the mid-19th century, photographers used mirrors to document different views of a patient in the same image. The first clinical photographs were taken by portrait photographers. As conventions for clinical photography were not yet established, early clinical photographs resemble contemporary portraits. The use of mirrors in clinical photography probably originated from the portrait studios, as several renowned photographers employed mirrors in their studio portraits. Clinical photographs taken for the US Army Medical Museum between 1862 and 1882 show different ways of employing this mirror technique.

The full article is available at Taylor & Francis Online.

If you are interested in reading the full article and do not have access, please contact me.

Here is an interview with me about the article (in Norwegian).

Here is a blog post on the same subject I posted a few years back.

More photos with mirrors can be found on the National Museum of Health & Medicine’s Flickr-page.


Reference 13 is incorrectly attributed to the University of California. The correct reference is:

Pitts T. William Bell: Philadelphia photographer [Master thesis]. Tucson: University of Arizona; 1987:12-25.

The document is available online here.


Help Fund Medicine’s Dark Secrets

March 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Dr. Lindsay Fitzharris, medical historian and author of the brilliant Chirurgeon’s Apprentice blog, is launching a campaign to raise money to produce a documentary called “Medicine’s Dark Secrets”.

In the documentary she will delve into anatomical specimen collections, so important to the development of modern surgery,  in an effort to find out who all these specimens came from. Who were these people?

If you, like me, love medical history, head over to the Indiegogo campaign pages and donate! There are lots of goodies waiting for you depending on the amount you choose to donate, and if you donate before March 9th you’ll even enter a draw.

A Mastectomy in 1855

February 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Hawaiian missionaries Asa Thurston and Lucy Goodale Thurston. Daguerreotype, ca. 1864. Public domain.

Letters of Note has published a remarkable letter from Hawaiian missionary Lucy Goodale Thurston to her daughter, describing Mrs. Thurston’s mastectomy in 1855. The operation was done without any form of anesthesia. The doctors had advised her to not use chloroform “because of my having had the paralysis” (probably polio).

Dr. Ford looked me full in the face, and with great firmness asked: “Have you made up your mind to have it cut out?” “Yes, sir.” “Are you ready now?” “Yes, sir; but let me know when you begin, that I may be able to bear it. Have you your knife in that hand now?” He opened his hand that I might see it, saying, “I am going to begin now.”

Read the whole account here.

As you can tell from the picture above, the operation was successful and Mr. Thurston lived for another 21 years.

Hat tip to Suture for a Living.

Bubonic Plague Figurine

August 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photo by Øystein Horgmo © All rights reserved.

We went camping in Finland this summer and spent one day in the city of Turku. In the city museum part of Turku Castle I found this wooden figurine, depicting a victim of the Black Death.

By the time we reached this part of the castle however, my kids (3 and 6 years old) were so fed up (I can’t blame them) I didn’t have time to write down any details about the statuette. If someone reading this have, please write a comment.

The Medical Museion

May 10, 2010 § 8 Comments

Photo by Øystein Horgmo © All rights reserved.

The old building of the Royal Academy of Surgeons in Copenhagen now houses the Medical Museion – a meeting point of medical history, art and science. I finally had a chance to visit last weekend. « Read the rest of this entry »

Exquisite Bodies

September 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Wellcome Collection in London is hosting an exhibition of 19th-century anatomical wax models, entitled “Exquisite Bodies” from July 30th to October 18th (photo credit). In Victorian Britain, the demand for cadavers for dissection was very high, but the supply was low. One solution was to make anatomical wax models to teach anatomy. A lot of these models also found their way into museums,  teaching the public about reproduction and contagious diseases.

There’s a lot to explore on the exhibition’s website: image galleries with some of the most prominent items, an interactive anatomical Venus and videos on these Victorian wax wenches.

Also check out the Guardian’s image gallery and an audio slideshow from BBC News.

Living for a Suture

August 11, 2009 § 4 Comments


This weekend I did something I seldom do. I sewed a large patch on one of my jackets (photo credit). Over 500 stitches by hand. And while I was sewing I thought about suturing. « Read the rest of this entry »

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