Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Atlases of Dermatology

At Bookforum, Richard Cork on Francis Bacon's studio and the images Bacon hoarded there:
No such circumspection affected his treatment of the photographs he found in medical textbooks. They are truly painful to study, and many pages torn from one such book were unearthed in Bacon’s studio. Titled An Atlas of Regional Dermatology and published in 1955, it contains as many as 475 color photographs. The authors spare nothing in their determination to provide clinical close-ups of faces invaded by, for example, herpes simplex. These constellations of red spots are usually limited to “five to ten days,” yet the authors warn that “recurrences are common, and the eruption may be bilateral.” Bacon’s imagination could well have been dramatically stirred by the use of the word eruption. Judging by the paint marks scattered round two of these pictures, he looked at them intently. He also took a great deal of trouble to Scotch-tape another page from the book onto a large piece of paper. This time, the photographs zoom in on toes afflicted by plantar-wart lesions and tuberous sclerosis tumors. They look excruciating, and anyone would wince at the most distressing image Bacon tore from this book: The caption declares that the eruption of herpes shown here “is more extensive than usual.” Yet these matter-of-fact words cannot convey the visceral impact of the large, encrusted lesions exploding across most of a little girl’s cheek. The image is difficult even to glance at.


  1. I spent a few years at the University of Pennsylvania. There is a hallway that is covered in tastefully framed prints of various dermatological diseases. You have to be in the right mood to walk down that hallway.

  2. I want to make an atlas of what I'm seeing these days in infectious disease. At least there is a market for this kind of thing, at least amongst troubled artisits.