The images seen here examine an archive of hundred-year-old scientific studies of the human brain, produced by pathologists at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, one of the oldest mental health institutions in this country.
Utilizing the same chemicals as contemporary photographic processes of the time, after post-mortem examination, the brain was soaked in Collodion, preserving and hardening the whole organ, after which a very fine blade was used to create wafer-thin sections. These thin sections would then be affixed to glass, mimicking the presentation and display of the glass-plate photographic negative. In contemporary science, this form of preservation and observation has been largely replaced by technology; high-resolution MRI and CT scans are capable of producing far more 3-dimensional detail than any 2-d glass plate could hope to achieve.
But my fascination is in the evolution of this archive. With new technologies coupled with the evolving vision of mental healthcare (from medical research and experimentation to holistic treatment), these specimens were no longer viewed as documents of critical importance. Until the hospital's consolidation last year, these slides were stored in a disused autopsy theatre in the basement of the laboratory building, falling victim to the extremes of environment and neglect.
Much like our memories, these documents have, over the course of their life, transformed from what was once a perfect reproduction of precise accuracy, to a presence harboring ambiguous interpretations, readings and recollections.
By photographing the slides, I hope, in part, to impart a "photographic" permanence that the original slides strove for. But, at the same time, by leaving the prints unprotected, these photographs have the possibility to suffer the same fate as the slides. Ultimately, it's the viewer who must decide whether to preserve these images as a true document of science or help to accelerate their decay as a document of change.