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The Scourged Back
CREDIT: Mathew Brady Studio 1863, National Portrait Gallery USA

Images for social change

See stuff and think about it

For a number of years I worked on a print production project for medical imaging and that interest has not left me. Earlier this week I attended a Medical Group lecture on infectious diseases. Some of the images were not pleasant, but they were not taken as eye candy. They are a documentary record of how things are, and perhaps a tool to prompt us to think again on some issues.

Viewing images often takes me to consider other prints I have seen in the past, and this event was no exception. Cartes-de-visite were an early example of photography for the masses, often used for family albums. But they were also used as campaigning materials by various movements and a good example of this was the abolitionist and women's rights use by Sojourner Truth.

But they were also used with some more uncomfortable images, in this case to portray the reality of brutality in slavery. Illustrated is a famous image of 1860s abolitionist campaigning, The Scourged Back attributed here to Matthew Brady. Irrespective of their size, these cartes-de-visite images had impact. I found it on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC but this particular image is made available by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which also provides some commentary. I would also recommend you read more in America's Black Holocaust Museum.

For me the Medical Group event and these powerful collections provide stuff to think about. As a journalist of the time stated, it tells the story to the eye.