One of the factors that played a significant role in the development of medicine was photography. As a particular area of photography, medical photography documents various injuries and diseases. The photographs are later used by medical professionals in research, publications, and clinical documentation.
The medical photography requires high-level technical skills, as they help and educate medical professionals. Before the invention of photography, artists were hired in the hospitals to illustrate what they see. Medical photography began in 1840 in Paris, France, where Alfred Francois Donne, a doctor, and bacteriologist, used a camera to document bones and teeth.
As for the United States, one of the earliest medical photographers was Reed. B. Bontecou, a surgeon from New York. Dr. Bontecou was also a soldier in the American Civil War (1861-1865), so he took his camera with him to the battlefront. Besides treating the wounded soldiers, he also took photographs of them.
He documented wounds, treatments, surgeries, and his working environment. Doctor Reed played a critical role in the identification of a huge number of casualties of the Civil War. Dr. Bontecou’s images were even used to determine post-war pensions, as the officials used the photos to confirm the wounds of the soldiers.
The photographs of Dr. Reed were one of the largest sources in the creation of the Otis Archives in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington. Some of these photos were used to present the use of plastic surgery in a face and body repair.
These images have been a part of numerous exhibitions, and many of them have been displayed at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of the Photography and American Civil War exhibition.
The Burns Archive paid tribute to Dr. Bontecou in 2011, by releasing a book called “Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography by Reed B. Bontecou.”. Besides a big selection of Dr. Bontecous many photographs, the book also contains a short history and biography of the doctor.
It is safe to say that many of the injured soldiers would not have got what they deserved without Dr. Bontecou’s photographs.