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Medical Section of the Head Revealing Brain
The scientific use of photography began within the first year of the medium’s discovery. A camera’s ability to quickly record a large amount of detailed information corresponded perfectly with two of the nineteenth century’s great obsessions: classifying and ordering. This picture of a human head was taken to train students at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin by Alec Fraser, the professor of anatomy. Fraser had developed a chemical treatment that hardened the inner organs of a cadaver, making it possible to saw off slices and reveal the interior structure.
Fraser’s images, like Timothy O’Sullivan’s western survey photographs, have proven over time to possess qualities that transcend their original use as documentation. Some of the pictures appeal to contemporary taste and are expressive of the photographer’s personal vision. In this example, the lines and numbers Fraser inserted to identify parts of the brain may strike modern viewers as strangely numerical, ghostly thoughts still wandering around the dead man’s brain.
from Snite Museum of Art, Selected Works: Snite Museum of Art (Notre Dame, 2005)