Last year when I had knee surgery for a torn ACL I had the odd experience of walking into the operating room and being instructed to jump up onto the table myself. In TV shows and movies, the patient is always wheeled in on a gurney and lifted onto the table so I had never imagined having to go in on my own two feet - maybe ligament surgery is not dramatic enough for television. I also hadn't imagined the table to be the same as they use to administer a lethal injection, with its thin arm extensions angled off to the sides. As they velcro-ed my arms and spiked my IV I asked the doctor what his favorite color was - I fell off the planet before I heard his answer.
The book Clinic organized by Remy Faucheux steps into the sanitized world of hospitals and medical care with the work of 11 photographers (Olivier Amsellem, Constant Anee, Eric Baudelaire, Geoffroy de Boismenu, Christophe Bourguedieu, Jacqueline Hassink, Albrecht Kunkel, Ville Lenkkeri, Matthew Monteith, Mario Palmieri, and Stephan Ruiz) and a supplement by the Useful Photography group (Kessels, van der Meer, Germain, Cleen and Aarsman).
Most of us imagine what our hospital experience will be, like I mention above, we enter with anxiety, hope, and fear and the cold mix of science and technology accentuating these emotions. We would prefer to be elsewhere than among the ergonomically designed machines that peek into our bodies seeking flaw and disease. Like the old Woody Allen joke, "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens," being inside a hospital makes it hard to put your head in the sand, everything around you reminds you of your physical body and its vulnerability.
Clinic presents each photographer with their own section of 10 to 15 images along with a short statement. Albrecht Kunkel starts the book appropriately with portraits of women during their first pregnancies. Less fear inducing than many of the other projects, Kunkels straight forward portraits exude a calm and grace from the subjects which sit staring back at us with a mix of knowledge and anticipation.
Matthew Monteith's contribution follows comprising a group of portraits and still-lifes of machines and hospital staff. His large format camera orders the twists of tubes and cables with a concentration on colors that stand apart from the rest of the scene. A bright red Mickey Mouse tapestry hangs behind the arm of an x-ray machine and red electrical sockets betray the calculated whiteness of a room. The best image is of a baby in an incubator bathed in a blue ultra-violet light, its tiny form encased like a lab specimen.
My favorite two projects are from Geoffroy de Boismenu and Christophe Bourguedieu. De Boismenu photographs within the operating room and choses to describe his subjects just before or just after the procedure. In preperation, the patient is draped in blue-green cloth and only the abstract form of flesh shows through. Beautifully lit, the hues of the dark palette conceal more than they reveal. The subject, which seems life-less most of the time, is surrounded by large expanses of darkness. This are the most disconcerting of all of the projects for me as it is even more fear-inducing than another artist's included in this book, Mario Palmieri's which concerns itself with a hospital morgue. These invasive surgeries with flesh which resembles wax and roughly sewn suchers grotesquely holding the body together are not for the faint of heart.
The other favorite is Christophe Bourguedieu who followed emergency crews as they make home visits to people in distress. I like this work for its escape from the extremely rigid formalism which most of the artists use as a descriptive device. Perhaps medium format or even 35mm digital, the human element of health care is more evident in these photos. These crews are the link between the outside world and the internal hospital world where moments of professionalism and genuine signs of emotion can be sensed. A group of men stand over a sheet-covered body in a park, their body language conveying defeat. In another, a man casually stands watching a colleague administer an injection into the blueish form of a man - his look a mix of ambiguity and interest.
The last section on a different Matte paper is a supplement by the Useful Photography group. Its concern is not with common ideas of beauty but with how an image over time may shift from pure disgust to something of fascination. The choice of vintage images shows antiquated machines with hard edges and threatening appearances along with tumors, and organs plainly presented for investigation. The oddness of the medical world is apparent as patients seem to be swallowed up by the machines they are hooked to with comic effect. That is until one gets to the last page which is a grid of tongue cancers. Where as the other projects find a comfort level with their subjects, this set will surely unnerve the viewer into aligning with their real or imagined fears.
The approach of the other photographers, although the images are well made, are formally alike which is my only criticism of the selection. Like the environs they describe, Clinic is clean and sterile in its design from its sans-serif fonts to the openness of the page layouts. Essays by Michal Poivert and Stephane Velut open the book. Clinic was published in 2008 by Images En Manoeuvres Editions.