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Medical photography in the 1980s

With 2018 heralding IMI’s 50th year, it was an interesting coincidence that I was clearing some old material and came across a copy of Kodak’s ‘Professional’ magazine dated ‘Winter 1987’ with an article about Medical Photography in the 1980s.

Medical Photography in the 1980s 'Professional' Cover 1987

This issue – Volume 1, No. 3 – concentrated on medical work and the article headed ‘The Medical Illustrators’ talked about ‘The Institute of Medical & Biological Illustration [IMBI] which next year celebrates its 21st birthday’. At that time Kodak sponsored the annual ‘Kodak Awards to IMBI’ and IMBI then morphed into IMI – the Institute of Medical Illustrators – a couple of years after that. Kodak, of course, has passed into history and is no longer part of the medical illustration scene.

In this Kodak Professional magazine, there was a selection of images from various medical photographers, including Garry Swann (Doncaster Royal Infirmary); Peter Grencis (Newcastle-on-Tyne); Robin Williams (Charing Cross & Westminster); Nick White (then at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham); Chris Priest (then at St Bartholomew’s in London) and a photograph of mine and one of Gillian Almond’s when we were both at the Institute of Child Health and The Hospitals for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street. Gill was Senior Photographer and I had just joined the department as Deputy Director with Ray Lunnon as Director. The following are a few pages from this publication. Pages 14, 16 and 17 can be seen here: click to view at a larger size.

medical photography in the 1980s 'Professional' page 14  medical photography in the 1980s 'Professional' page 16  medical photography in the 1980s 'Professional' page 17

It is interesting that the style and subject matter is still relevant today and students on the Staffordshire University courses need to tackle an assignment involving location photography and produce eye-catching images, and ‘routine’ clinical photography is as much in demand as it was 30 years ago.

The front cover of the ‘Professional’ magazine was taken using Kodak’s 35mm Ektachrome 100 Professional (EPN) and I still have the original, scanned and reproduced here. It was a photograph I had taken a few months before and it was of my trainee assistant when I was at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Chelsea, London. She was dressed in the full protective clothing we used when entering rooms either to photograph immuno-compromised patients or, in this case, to photograph an operative sequence on an AIDS  (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) patient. The shield in front of the face (flipped up to take the photograph) was there to protect us in case of blood or other bodily fluids being loose in the room.

Medical photography in the 1980s A photographer in theatre clothing

My subject posed for the picture for a talk I was due to give on the photography of AIDS patients. The year it was taken was 1986 and the AIDS epidemic had broken out in the early 1980s. St. Stephen’s Hospital, on the Fulham Road in Chelsea (now completely replaced by the Chelsea Westminster Hospital) was one of the major centres dealing with the AIDS-affected patients. The virus – HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus – was originally known at HTLV-III and was described in the Wolfe Colour Atlas of AIDS, published in 1986.

There was a considerable amount of uncertainty and fear about the infectious or contagious nature of the virus; life expectancy for those acquiring the virus was short with their immune system severely compromised. So at that point we used to gown-up for operating theatre: full theatre clothing with gloves and we had the face mask which we kept in the down position when not acutally taking the photograph. For obvious reasons, it was totally impractical to look through a viewfinder and take a picture with the mask in place. However, one surgeon went to extremes by arriving in theatre wearing a gas mask, to the general amusement of everyone there. However, he was happy to pose for a photograph before he realised that it was nigh-on impossible to do any work while wearing it, so took it off after a few minutes!

It is also interesting to look back at the camera and flash equipment we carried. As you can see from the picture above, the photographer was using a Nikon F3 with a motor drive. These not only wound the film on between pictures, but they also rewound the film after 36 exposures at fairly high speed. This meant that a film could be rewound, taken out of the camera, a new 35mm cassette inserted and wound on to the first frame in about 30–40 seconds.

The hand-held flash unit you see here is no longer made. It was a Multiblitz unit, extremely powerful and used a lead-acid battery, similar to those used in cars but obviously considerably smaller, carried in the powerpack in an over-the-shoulder case. We used to charge it overnight and then it would happily power 120 or more flashes, more than enough to cover an operative sequence. I don’t remember ever having to take a spare battery to theatre.

The power of those Multiblitz flash guns was very high. We used to shoot Kodachrome 64 transparency film Kodachrome 64 film cassette

and would still get f/22 at a magnification of 1:4 on the 105 mm Micro-Nikkor lens. The quality of the light was also very good: the flash head was quite large, giving a powerful but soft, wide spread of light and we never had to add any further diffusion to it. Multiblitz, sadly, also went into liquidation in December 2017. I shall look at the quality of light from different hand-held flash units in a future post.

A specialist in the STD Clinic (Charles Farthing) together with our consultant Dermatologist (Richard Staughton), his colleagues from Charing Cross Hospital (Jeff Cream, Mark Mühlemann)  and I, all collaborated for the Wolfe Colour Atlas of AIDS which was the first book of its kind about the syndrome. This was subsequently translated into German, French, Greek and Japanese and went to a second edition. About 160 photographs were used in the first book, along with around 30 graphs, charts and diagrams, all of which had to be hand-drawn and coloured with acetates and annotated with Letraset. Those were pre-computer-graphic days…

Wolfe Colour Atlas of AIDS cover

There have been plenty of publications about AIDS and the AIDS-Related Complex (ARC) since then. During those few years, I photographed more cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma than I can possibly remember and I haven’t photographed one since! Fortunately it wasn’t too long before much more was understood about HIV and the development of antiretroviral drug therapies made a dramatic difference to treatments available and the quality of life for those affected.

It’s always interesting to look back at the profession some years ago and to see that while technologies have progressed, the core need of accurate and useful images is still there . Plus ça change

 

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