4: Is Dissection Photography Really a Genre?

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What photograph carries more abject significance than an image that coexists in the interstices between social repugnance and a hallowed expression of the cooperative social experiences of legions of students? This chapter legitimizes dissection photography’s role as a pervasive photographic genre by positioning its existence within other forms of abject imagery. It also asks why the supergenre of medical photography, in all its varying forms, has subsisted almost exclusively outside the scope of photographic history’s authoritative canonical texts. While the constant fluidity of the genre’s dominant imagery seemed to confuse early photo historians in terms of defining the genre’s origin, such acts are in fact essential to the formation of a genre as we know it, such as the creation of distinct subgenres. In the case of dissection photography, once student amateur photographers had access to handheld cameras, the psychological turmoil of their initial encounter with the cadaver found tangible expression in the form of a distinct subgenre. Particular attention is paid to this phenomenon, specifically, the formation of the Student Dream subgenre and its relation to the psychosocial conditioning of American medical students.

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