Images Made by Contagion

Images Made by Contagion. The Wax Moulage as Dermatological Image

Mechthild Fend

fend_baretta_hand.jpg

Jules Baretta: Dermatological wax moulage "Érythème du dos de la main. Homme agé de 26 ans, journalier," 1867. Paris, Hôpital Saint Louis.

This project was concerned with 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. It focused on the collection of dermatological waxes at the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris and explores the ways in which these images engage with the disease and with the body of the sick. It queried what kind of images these medical wax casts actually are and why they were so successful as a medium of dermatological visualisation from the middle of the nineteenth century until the 1960s. The argument was that they sit somewhat uncomfortably between being—as to some degree mechanically-produced casts—“images of objectivity” and images with animist qualities.