Most everyone who reads Medgadget has a deeply-rooted fascination of medicine. A recently published book by a pathologist and photographer pair aims to channel that fascination into an appreciation of the aesthetics surrounding many of the images and diseases that we regularly encounter. Hidden Beauty: Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science (Schiffer 2013) is a 232-page collection of amazing medical images, ranging from surreal PET scans to intricate histological portraits. We had the opportunity to speak with the book’s authors, Dr. Christine Iacobuzio-Donaue and Norman Barker, about the project and their thoughts on trends in medicine.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: How did you come up with the idea for Hidden Beauty?
Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue: At Johns Hopkins Medicine the use of scientific imaging is paramount to what we do. Whether it be for patient diagnosis, teaching, or research, the scientific image is important on so many levels. As faculty members we are always using Photomicrographs, X-rays, CT scans, assays etc. to convey or document a disease process.
Norm Barker: During the course of our work-week we see many beautiful and interesting things. Both Dr. Iacobuzio and I had done other books, we got together and talked about doing a book for a lay audience and taking them for a tour of the human body and giving a brief explanation of a particular disease process. For example; what is Osteoporosis and what does it look like? So we decided to collaborate as artist and scientist to come up with a beautiful book and exhibit.
Medgadget: Can you describe the process and timeline of going from conceiving the idea for the book and finally publishing it this year?
Iacobuzio-Donahue: This book was done on evenings and weekends as a part time project/labor of love. In a busy academic department with full time faculty appointment and many responsibilities it’s impossible to work on a project like this, while being pulled in many other directions. It was a very collaborative process, there were many photographs that did not make the book because of a very stringent editing process. We would meet every two weeks and toss around ideas and many times we would try to make an image but for some reason it just did not work.
Medgadget: Is there a favorite image that you have in the book? (If I had to pick, I’d say mine are the fundus images on page 35)
Barker: That’s a hard one to answer, one of my favorite is on pg 131 the placenta and the story that goes along with it are very interesting. The idea that the placenta is the only one of our organs that is designed to be discarded when it’s function is done is unique. Dr. Iacobuzio’s favorite image is of the gallstones that was used as the cover image.
Medgadget: Do you have a sense of how many people have read Hidden Beauty?
Iacobuzio-Donahue: At this point it’s difficult to say, the book has only been out for a couple of months. I can tell you that we were interviewed by the BBC [watch below] which aired worldwide and the publisher Shiffer Books said because of the press coverage the book was flying off the shelf. The traveling exhibit which goes along with the book will most certainly get the work out to a wider audience.
Medgadget: What is the most interesting or unexpected feedback you’ve received about your work?
Barker: People are fascinated with the imagery in the book. It’s such a wide variety of images and topics. I think that everyone has either experienced one of these diseases personally or certainly has known a friend or family member that has had a battle with one of these diseases. In no way are we trying to glorify disease, but it is part of the human condition, that we all must face, just like birth or death.
Medgadget: Are there any trends in medicine/medical innovation that you’re excited by? If so, please describe.
Iacobuzio-Donahue: While there are many exciting advances, I think the concept of understanding a persons genome at the most basic level so as to predict their risk of disease over their lifetime is most incredible. I am excited to see how the future in medicine unfolds related to this goal.
Here’s a video with Dr. Iacobuzio-Donahue showing off and talking about some of the images in the book:
About the Authors:
Norman Barker is an associate professor of Pathology and Art as Applied to Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine. He is Director of Pathology Photography and Graphics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. A graduate of The Maryland Institute College of Art, he also holds a M.S. from Johns Hopkins University in education as well as a M.A. from The University of Baltimore in publications design. He specializes in photomicrography and macro photography. He is a fellow of the Biocommunications Association and his work appears in textbooks, journals and museums worldwide. His photography, design and writing have won numerous awards over his thirty-three year career at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
In 2008 he was honored by the Biocommunications Association with the Louis Schmidt Award. This recognition is the highest award the association bestows for outstanding contributions to the progress of biological communications in the sciences. In 2001 Barker coauthored with Giraud Foster the very successful book Ancient Microworlds along with an exhibition of photographs from the book that have been seen on tour around fine art and natural history museums for the last ten years. He has published four books, and made major contributions of his photographs to more than twenty medical textbooks. His most recent book is entitled Paleobotanical Splendor which includes high magnification images of fossilized plant material from around the world. He has given more than 100 lectures to professional societies about photography technique and scientific imaging. His photographs are also in the permanent collections of more than forty museums including The Smithsonian, The George Eastman House, The American Museum of Natural History, The Nelson-Atkins Museum and The Science Museum in London.
Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Adelphi University in Garden City NY in 1991, and both her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Boston University School of Medicine in 1998. Upon graduation, she moved to Baltimore where she completed a residency in Anatomic Pathology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the final year of which she served as one of two appointed Chief Residents. Her training also includes a postdoctoral fellowship in Gastrointestinal Oncology in the lab of Dr. Scott Kern M.D., a renowned pancreatic cancer researcher and pioneer in the field of pancreatic cancer genetics, and a Gastrointestinal/Liver Pathology fellowship at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Iacobuzio joined the full-time Pathology faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2003 and is currently a Professor of Pathology, Oncology and Surgery. She has no formal training in art but well enjoys art as a hobby, particularly oil painting.