An Introduction to Media Medicum
Exhibition Catalogue Essay, 2014


Looking at society, culture and science today you often forget, while rushing through your daily life, the conditions which made it possible. When tracing the history of contemporary Western civilisation, looking back at what was before allows us to peek through the hazy shade of a thin curtain into what is now and what is to come. Looking back to the history of Western culture you inevitably arrive at the period of Industrialisation during the 19th century. The age of industrial madness, which gripped most of the Northern hemisphere, is marked by creative innovations in the arts, mechanical wonders in engineering and pioneering inventions in science. While these lasting markers of humankind are celebrated through their contemporary uses, the quirks, oddities and failures remain more hidden, yet similarly vital to the legacy and impact of the era. The works exhibited as part of Media Medicum explore a variety of known innovations and hidden mysteries.

When the group initially began planning their work a variety of themes and subject matters arose. Issues such as time, history, death or mortality, science and society were mentioned and debated. In the end the group sought to combine their interests and referred to history in order to find a point of origin and temporal context to reference in their work and eventual exhibition. The group unanimously arrived at the 19th century as the launch point and framework due to a variety of contributing reasons.

One such reason is the birth and early development of photographic practices and techniques occurring throughout the century. Pioneers such as Joseph Nicéphone Niépce, Jaques Derrida, Henry Fox Talbot and George Eastman contributed to the initial and lasting flourish of photography. The Lumière Brothers and Eadweard Muybridge likewise contributed to the success of the mechanically- and chemically -produced image. This rich and vibrant history of the beginnings of photography marks the 19th century as historically significant in terms of the groups work. Similarly vital is the prevalence of medicinal innovations and inventions that occurred in to the atmosphere of the era. Inventions such as the electromagnet (William Sturgeon), the stethoscope (René Laënnec), various anesthesias (including Dr William Morton and James Young Simpson), the hypodermic syringe (Alexander Wood) and the use of X-ray cinematography (John McIntyre) are just a few examples. Practices in visualising and documenting diseases and illnesses developed hand-in-hand with the understanding of basic healthcare and various treatments. The birth of scientific psychology and medical psychiatry signalled the beginning of analysing and treating the internal, mental health of society's members.

A third source of inspiration for the exhibition’s theme lay in the group
s geographical location at the time of conception and planning. The city of Edinburgh, Scotland has a long and vibrant tradition and heritage in terms of both medicine and photography. Scottish photographers during the 19th-century were among the first to actively use photographic techniques for both commercial and artistic means. Due to patenting errors, early Scottish photography aided the establishment of photography as a documentary instrument and a tool for artistic expression and exploration. The New Town part of Edinburgh was the centre of the city’s artistic community and the location for several of the earliest photographic studios used by professional and amateur photographers. While Glasgow was the centre for more traditional art forms towards the later end of the century, Edinburgh still remained as an important part of the Scottish art community during the 19th-century. In terms of medicine, Edinburgh was, and is still today, an epicentre for the global medical and medicinal community. Several of the city’s buildings were built with the intent purpose of serving the medical community as surgeons and physicians offices, operation theatres, morgues and much more. University of Edinburgh, one of Europe’s oldest universities, has a long tradition and a lasting impact on the status of the medical sciences in the United Kingdom, Europe and the entire world. The history of medical and medicinal developments that occurred in Edinburgh varies from developments in scientific and plastic surgery as well as anaesthesias to anatomy, psychology and forensics. Further proof of the citys immense medicinal history can be found in the men and women in Edinburgh who developed various phenomena, including Sir James Young Simpson (who pioneered the usage of chloroform as a surgical anaesthesia) and Sir Alexander Fleming (who developed early penicillin) in addition to many others. These many traditions continued well into the 20th century and beyond.

A shared tradition unfolds in front of us when we look at the distinct histories of photography and medicine during the 19th century. Photography in the 19th emerged into an atmosphere of curiosity and necessity. Medical communities were quick and enthusiastic in their employment of photographic practices and techniques for constructing visual imagery that could assist in diagnosing, treating and controlling the variety of maladies and ailments that were plaguing the 19th century patient. Cameras were explored as instruments capable of producing objective knowledge and scientific evidence. Thus photography fit into the increasingly common evaluation, appreciation and importance of health care and management of the continued physical and mental wellbeing of society
s members through medical diagnostics and treatments. It is in this context that 19th century Scottish photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson are credited as creating early clinical portraits in the mid-1800s and that medical photography and its various specialized applications were continually developed. Today we experience this heritage through specialized photographic practices employed in various medicinal contexts, including clinical, dental and retinal photography.

It is from this varied pool of inspiration that the members of Panopticon took it upon themselves to continue and deepen their research. The ultimate goal was to choose a particular theme and subject matter to explore and re-interpret into a contemporary context. These subject matters vary from medical illustrations of medical electricity (Salka ArnarsdottÍr), to treatments of tuberculosis (Samantha Calvert), X-ray imagery and cinematography (Katie Matthews), anorexia nervosa (Malena Persson) and the intersection of between art and medical illustrations originating from the 19th-century (Rebecca Sandelin). Each work explores and interprets different facets of the exhibitions overall theme, and re-interprets the original material depending on what issues and questions were found interesting and important by the photographer. Media Medicum presents these projects in relation to one another and to the general theme of re-interpreting 19th-century medicinal phenomena.

This short essay is just the introduction to the exhibition itself. As an ending to this introduction it would be worthwhile expanding on the name Media Medicum and its origins. The title is an amalgam of a few terms, one being
materia medica, the Latin medical term for a body of collected knowledge of the therapeutic properties of medicines. Another is materia photographica, a term traced to Clement J. Leaper’s treatise on photographic materials, substances, techniques and practices from the late 19th-century. Media was used in knowledge of its original Latin meaning (‘something lying in a middle or intermediate position) as well as its modern and contemporary meaning (‘a means of effecting or conveying something’). Thus Media Medicum can be interpreted to mean a method of conveying re-interpretations of medicinal phenomena that exists in a middle temporal context between what was and what is to be. Much like the projects presented within, the exhibition itself re-interprets 19th century medicinal phenomena as a way of looking at the past to gain knowledge and understanding of our current times and of our possible future.

The rest of the pages within this catalogue are dedicated to the images and words of each project presented in Media Medicum. Like each individual photographer creating the work, each individual work has its own area of interest, style and personality that is influenced by the combination of research, inspiration, interpretation and visual engagement. Yet combined with each other the works afford us with intriguing insights into the variation of medicinal phenomena that occurred throughout the 19-century and how these phenomena could be understand in both historical and contemporary contexts.


In the nineteenth century man lost their fear of God and acquired a fear of microbes Anonymous
There are some arts which to those that possess them are painful, but to those that use them are helpful, a common good to laymen, but to those that practice them grievous. Of such arts there is one which the Greeks call medicine. For the medical man sees terrible sights, touches unpleasant things, and the misfortunes of others bring a harvest of sorrows that are peculiarly his; but the sick by means of the art rid themselves of the worst of evils, disease, suffering, pain and death. Hippocrates, Breathes
Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future Hippocrates, Epidemics


Media Medicum
Exhibition Introductory Statement, 2014


Media Medicum is a collaborative exhibition produced independently by five female photographers. Planned and produced since November 2014, Media Medicum presents five distinctly unique photographic projects that explore a variety of subject matters relating to19th-century medicinal phenomena.

The exhibited projects explore particular subject matters or themes such as methods of visual representation, certain illnesses or diseases or even the collision of both. Through detailed and in-depth historical and contemporary research each photographer has aimed to re-interpret the history of 19th-century methods, theories and practices.

The group’s inspiration and interest in the theme of the exhibition originates from the vivid and rich history and heritage of the 19th-century. The effects of the era of Industrialisation are experienced today in everyday life. Advancements and innovations occurring in every sphere of society and culture during the century sparked the mass-development of modern Western civilisation, as we know it today. Phenomena we enjoy and take for granted today such as photography, healthcare, various medical treatments and instruments and other medicinal practices originate from the 1800s. Today these phenomena are employed throughout parts of society and culture whilst also being continually developed.

Media Medicum presents five photographic works that explore phenomena that originate or became popularised during the 19th-century and which are still today important issues to consider and develop. The team behind the exhibition, Panopticon, consists of Salka Arnarsdottir, Samantha Calvert, Katie Matthews, Malena Persson and Rebecca Sandelin. Each presents a work in Media Medicum as part of their third-year studies at Edinburgh Napier University’s Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Photography.