Speaker Series | Mechthild Fend | "Body to Body: The Dermatological Wax Moulage as Indexical Image"

Thursday, March 27, 2014 17:30
Arts Building W-215, 853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0G5, CA

Mechthild Fend, University College London

Body to Body: The Dermatological Wax Moulage as Indexical Image
The lecture will focus on a very particular kind of medical imagery: dermatological wax moulages, casts taken from the body of people infected with diseases of the skin to document their condition. The talk will explore the ways in which these images – made by contagion in the most literal sense – engage with the body of the sick. It will query what kind of images these medical wax casts actually are and why they were so popular as a medium of dermatological visualisation from the middle of the nineteenth century until the 1960s. The talk will explore the nature of these impressions based on the contact between the somatic symptom and the plaster which was used to make the moulds from which the wax casts were then taken.

While much of the diagnostic utility of the dermatological casts relies on the re-working and colouring of the moulages by the wax modeller, their claim for truth and authenticity is based on their quality as mechanically produced images. This links them structurally to photography, and the latter medium was indeed introduced into dermatology at the same time as the wax moulages. This is particularly striking the case of the Hôpital Saint Louis in Paris (the first clinic dedicated entirely to the treatment of skin diseases): Alfred Hardy and A. de Montméja published their Clinique photographique de L'hôpital Saint-Louis published in 1868 and Jules Baretta, hired as a mouleur for the hospital in 1863, finished his first moulage in 1867. I will discuss the preference for these mechanically produced images in relation to Daston and Galison’s notion of “Images of Objectivity”. At the same time, I would like to stress the traditions of an animist believe in the lifelikeness of images at work in both of these media and discuss the similarity between the display of the wax moulages at the Musée des Moulages at the Hôpital Saint-Louis and religious votives. In this respect I would like to argue, adapting Bruno Latour, that these images have never been entirely modern.

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