Ageing and Gerontology

We are the UK’s leading publisher of books on Ageing and Gerontology and our titles fill a clear gap in the current literature. The list interrogates the challenges of an ageing population, push forward knowledge and reframe perspectives.

Central to this are the international and comparative works in the Ageing in a Global Context series, published in association with the British Society of Gerontology, and the Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies journal.

Ageing and Gerontology

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Collectively, dissection photographs demonstrate a pervasive attribute of aberration that breeds frequent visual and cultural misunderstandings over the color and tonal value of a cadaver’s skin. For example, during the era of the dissection photograph, red was recorded by the camera as near black. Thus, using the cadaver’s photographic appearance as the sole means of determining a cadaver’s race is a method replete with error and misconception. Complications are compounded once we include additional variables, such as improper embalming techniques, or the body’s natural processes of decomposition. This chapter explores how photography is not an entirely truthful medium, and why caution should be taken when using extant dissection photographs as a reliable witness of racist acts toward communities of color in the dissecting room.

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This chapter discusses visualizing student life and dissecting room culture during a period of climactic upheaval in the photographic industry: the introduction of amateur handheld cameras. It focuses on the formation of student identity by way of single dissector snapshots. Until the 1890s, photographically commemorating a one-on-one relationship between student and cadaver was virtually unheard of. Moreover, handheld cameras led to an increase in representative agency; providing the next level of self-representation and self-awareness – critical awareness – which provided students with an opportunity to pass judgment on each other, in part, through the quality of their skills taking and developing photographs. By the early 1910s, the commercial availability of camera technology, such as those manufactured by Eastman Kodak, influenced both ability and convention, leading to a steady rise in single-dissector portraiture. Many took the form of real photo postcards. Although the convention never reached the same level of production as group shots by the genre’s ‘end’ in the 1930s, single-dissector snapshots had become fully integrated into the larger genre’s iconography.

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The book’s conclusion focuses on questions such as, why do we care about dead bodies and their photographic representations? It situates these questions within the era of the dissection photograph before discussing current views and trends in the modern American dissecting room. Specific attention is given to the author’s experiences observing students interacting with their cadavers, and how current trends in medical humanities seek to soften student–cadaver interactions through formal orientation seminars. Also discussed is how modern students view the role of the photograph. Particularly relevant to dissection photography is the question, if allowed, would the students of today take pictures with the dead? While most students aligned themselves with modern ethical standards, and the expressed policies of their school, this question and the author’s exploration sought to determine whether policy was in fact suppressing an underlying need; the same need students had almost a century and a half ago.

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This chapter explores conceptual and theoretical applications of abjection toward the dissected cadaver, dissection photography’s most abject element throughout its 50-year evolution. Also examined is the cycle associated with the cadaver’s ambiguity as dual subject/object. Particular attention is shown to the direct correlation between its abject otherness and the transformative processes essential for its utilization by medical students for both anatomical dissection and, later, photographic commemoration. To the lay reader who has never dissected nor witnessed a dissection before, the concept of the abject and the abjectified body assists with coming to terms with the myriad attitudes and questionable behaviors students adopted during the era of the dissection photograph. Of note are the substantial shifts in student–cadaver posing conventions. These shifts rendered the dissected cadaver almost completely ambiguous; not only through the destruction of its structural unity and form, but the dissolution and derision of its personhood. The theoretical concept of the abject provides clarity and context to the underlying signifiers associated with dissection photography. It is an ontological lens through which readers may objectively interpret, re-examine, and reckon with the genre’s more transgressive traditions.

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Cadavers, Abjection, and the Formation of Identity

Contemporary audiences are often shocked to learn that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, medical students around the world posed for photographic portraits with their cadavers; a genre known as dissection photography.

Featuring previously unseen images, stories, and anecdotes, this book explores the visual culture of death within the gross anatomy lab through the tradition of dissection photography, examining its historical aspects from both photographic and medical perspectives.

The author pays particular attention to the use of dissection photographs as an expression of student identity, and as an evolving transgressive ritual intricately connected to, and eventually superseding, the act of dissection itself.

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Due to the limitations of the photographic medium and subsequent photographic printing, answering questions about the realities of cadaveric skin involve countless variables on both sides of the anatomic and photographic spectrum. Ultimately, the aesthetics of the photographed cadaver cannot be trusted. This chapter argues that throughout the defining era of dissection photography (1880–1930) the cadaver’s photographed skin and muscle contributed cooperative proof of its abject, ambiguous, and inassimilable nature. The author examines this assertion in detail, focusing on the disruptive uncertainties and inconsistencies of cadaveric skin, as shown throughout 20th-century amateur-made dissection photographs. Agents of disruption demonstrate the capacity to disturb reliable visual translations of the natural textures, color translations, and tonal values of dead flesh, and include, but are not limited to, common types of photographic image deterioration, the limitations of early 20th-century photographic technologies, poor lighting, as well as natural decomposition processes, and the eccentricities of period embalming techniques.

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To comprehend dissection photography as an evolving genre, we must first and foremost stop looking at the genre’s raw elements, the typology of the dissecting room, as the sole means of grouping and thus defining dissection photography in total. While this structure is decidedly more palatable to a broad, non-medically inclined audience, it fails to position or contextualize these subjects and their influences from a technical or sociocultural standpoint. To illustrate this point, this chapter discusses grave robbing, and its relation to the origins of dissection photographs, and how systemic racism created a divergent iconography associated with Black student and physician identity. Particular attention is paid to medical schools in the American South and their attempts to prevent Black students from dissecting White bodies.

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This chapter introduces readers to the global photographic phenomenon known as dissection photography. Dissection photographs were a popular means for students of all ages, backgrounds, and disciplines to document and commemorate their participation in anatomical dissection, then the earliest defining experience of a medical education. In an age in which photography served to confirm occupation and establish identity, dissection photography became a ritualized tradition inextricably linked to a professional rite of passage. This chapter provides a brief history of the genre’s evolution from 1880 to 1930, as well as the years of its demise from the 1940s to the 1980s. Also discussed are major shifts in the genre, from the introduction of handheld cameras to the creation of dissection postcards, its cultural erasure from any canonical texts on the history of medicine and photography, as well as modern scholarship begot by James S. Terry in the 1980s, and continued in 2009 with the landmark publication, Dissection, by John Harley Warner and James Edmonson.

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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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Poor lighting affects the outcome of any photograph. In the case of a dissection photograph, it can also contribute to the ambiguous appearance of a cadaver’s skin and bones. This chapter discusses how the lighting and location of a school’s dissecting room influenced the quality of the photographs taken inside. Particular attention is paid to the differences between attic and basement dissecting rooms and the challenges of taking photographs in either space, especially those requiring magnesium flash. Also of note, is a case study focused on the environs associated with ‘Chris’ Baker, the African American janitor of the Medical College of Virginia who was also a prolific resurrectionist. This chapter discusses how racially motivated perceptions ‘othered’ Baker and his essential role in dissecting room culture. When coupled with the limitations of early 20th-century posing conventions, most left over from the antebellum era, Baker had to be segregated from students or dehumanized when posing for dissecting room portraits.

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