dinsdag 1 mei 2012

Faces of the Realm of Pain Dr. Hans Killian Photography

Facies Dolorosa: Das schmerzensreiche Antlitz (Faces of the Realm of Pain).

Killian, Hans.

"Facies Dolorosa, by the distinguished German diagnostician Dr. Hans Killian, is nominally a scientific work of empirical observation, dealing with the first stage in any diagnosis: the external examination of the patient.The photographs depict patients lying in bed - young, old, male and female. They are usually shot from fairly close up, so that many of them simply show a face sticking out of white hospital sheets, with the patient's prognosis printed beneath. Sometimes the patient is shown more than once, as his or her illness progresses.To the layman the chief characteristic of the book lies in its strangeness, its departure from the norms of clinical photographic practice. Killian does not usually photograph head-on, but from the side, and often at the patient's level, like a visiting family member. This makes them, at one level, extremely intimate photographs, empathetic portraits of the sick. Yet at another level they are intensely cold and dispassionate, a result of the printing process - collotype - in a range of light greys. The tension between the intimate and the stone cold makes for a haunting and memorable book - moving yet creepy, blurring the line between living and dead, between the serene and the demented. Whatever its value as a diagnostic tool, Facies Dolorosa certainly resonates with a disturbing and powerful beauty. A work of photographic science has undoubtedly crossed the border into photographic art." (Parr/Badger, The Photobook, vol.1, pp. 136-137). 

Sixty-four b/w reproductions of photographs divided into nine sections: 1) Seelisch nahezu unberührte Kranke. 2) Das Krankheitserlebnis im Spiegel des Antlitzes. 3) Strumen. 4) Blasse Gesichter. 5) Facies dolorosa. 6) Narkose. 7) Benommenheit und Bewußtlosigkeit. 8) Kachezie. 9) Bildfolgen aus verschiedenen Krankheitsstadien. Foreword by Dr. Killian. Text in German. Some scuffing and minor age wear on cloth. Tight copy with binding in very good, interior in fine condition. Powerful photographic work of a difficult subject matter with haunting yet sensitive images.

... My own personal favourite of what might be termed accidental photographic books is Facies Dolorosa by Dr Hans Killian, an ostensibly medical book from 1934 concerning the nature of pain and suffering as it manifested itself on the human face. The subjects are pictured lying prone in bed, shot close-up in black and white, though not with the kind of detached precision that usually attends scientific inquiry. Killian was obviously involved intimately with his subjects and their conditions, and he photographs them with a sympathy that is both moving and oddly beautiful. It is, says Parr, 'perhaps the most melancholy photographic book of all' ... See also Photobooks on Care environments and Matters of Life and Death in post-war Holland: THEN and NOW by Mirelle Thijsen 

See for a review & discussion with Martin Parr ...

Dear Thomas 
Thank you for your letter and for throwing some light on the subject of Dr Killian. As neither Gerry Badger or myself read much German we were unable to find anything much out about him, except the fact of the Hans Killian Prize. However we were including his book on the strength of the photographs and I think we would do the same even knowing what we now know. If you look closely at the text you can see that we were slightly uneasy about them as we have already criticised the 19th century tradition of physiognomic comparison, and it does not surprise that he may have been Nazi as their medical experiments derived from this tradition. If we are revising the book, we will certainly mention this fact, but one interesting puzzle remains. Why is there still a well respected prize in his honour if his name is somewhat tarnished? 
Best wishes Martin Parr 

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