Picturing Medical Modernity: Facilities, Technology, and Patients in the Photographic Records of Lima’s Society for Public Beneficence, 1910–20

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM
Riverside Ballroom (Sheraton New York)
Adam W. V. Warren, University of Washington
In 1913, the Sociedad de Beneficiencia Pública de Lima published a large, detailed catalog of photographs of its hospitals, hospices, orphanages, and facilities for the poor. This paper asks what these photographs and their accompanying descriptions can tell us about visions of medical modernity in early-twentieth-century Peru. Unlike the typical medical photographs analyzed by historians of medicine, which tend to scrutinize the body of the individual patient and his or her illnesses or disabilities, these photographs are notable for articulating a kind of medical gaze in which the body is never central. As images intended to record and promote the organization's work, they instead showcase physical structures, new equipment, and the tidiness of wards and treatment rooms. Accompanying descriptions, moreover, highlight the history, administration, capacity, and services of facilities. Together, these images and descriptions provide an inventory of the many improvements and new forms of modern care funded by the society while simultaneously erasing patients from medical settings or, alternatively, arranging them into large, orderly, anonymous groups. When patients are, in fact, depicted, moreover, they are posed in ways that mask their physical maladies or disabilities and emphasize their labor potential. Photographers presented them as engaging in productive work in various kinds of workshops, or as learning different kinds of knowledge and skills. Taken together, these photographs and accompanying descriptions invite a discussion of a kind of medical gaze in which the body of the patient is not included as an object to be read for signs of health and disease, but rather is sometimes included in a limited fashion to resignify Peru's modernized medical facilities as efficient, orderly, and economically productive.
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