World War I Medical Films And Photography
Journal Article - Open Access
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE SILVER SPRING MD SILVER SPRING United States
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Medical photography in the Armed Forces preceded U.S. involvement in World War I, but 1917 marked the beginning of a new era in the depiction of military medicine. Dating back to the Civil War, the Army Medical Museum staff had included clinical photographers such as William Bell, E.J. Ward, Charles Throught, and C.J. Blacklidge, whose graphic plates are vividly reproduced in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.1 The Museums new Instructional Laboratory, created in November 1917, targeted a threefold audience-troops in training, medical officers, and the civilian world, including especially medical professionals-and endeavored to produce motion pictures and still photographs of more transcendent value. Practically speaking, graphic arts offered exciting new tools for medical training. Some of the 137 motion-picture films produced by the Instructional Laboratory outlined hands-on matters including insect control, with titles like Mosquito Eradication and Fighting the Cootie. The best known and most controversial motion-picture production of the new Laboratory was the four-reel film Fit to Fight, described as a venereal disease photo play that dramatically depicted both moral and clinical consequences of wayward behavior.2 While a General Order issued in January 1918 had limited the practice of photography in the American Expeditionary Forces to the Signal Corps, another General Order issued in May charged the Medical Department with making technical photographs of surgical and pathological interest. Quickly realizing that practically no hospitals were equipped with sufficient supplies, cameras were procured from French sources or borrowed from the Signal Corps. All told, the Instructional Laboratory produced about 40,000 feet of motion pictures and 10,000 still photographs.