Capturing the pictures of health

January 05, 1994|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

At first, it seems as if photographer Mark Wexler has stumbled upon a bizarre cult of idol worshipers. In a way he has: He has recorded the daily ritual of Siberian school children taking ultraviolet light doses to guard against the rickets and depression that accompany long winters without sunlight.

This photograph is among 67 displayed in "The Power to Heal: Ancient Arts & Modern Medicine," an arresting exhibition at Harbor Hospital Center in south Baltimore. Displayed as part of the hospital's 90th anniversary celebration, the traveling show is tied to the recent book of the same name. Both consider diverse approaches to medicine and healing through the work of renowned photojournalists.

Their images show the range of medical technology used around the world -- from computers that analyze illnesses to healers who still stitch wounds together with soldier ants. The show also mines relationships between healers, their patients and families as it considers the medical values of faith, commitment and persistence.

"The exhibition is about healing the person, the body and the soul," says pediatrician Shahid Aziz, vice-president of medical affairs and director of pediatrics at Harbor Hospital Center. "There's a lot more to medicine than surgery, and that comes across here very well."

And there's also a lot that challenges Western assumptions about fixed standards of technology and hygiene. A photograph by Feliks Soloyov, for instance, shows nine infants swaddled and packed, three to a plastic basket, in a maternity hospital in Siberia. One nurse stands guard over the precious crop, their identities pinned to their blankets on rough handwritten notes.

A second look shows the babies are resting peacefully, bathed in sunlight from a nearby window. The babies probably like to feel the living warmth of other bodies, reminds nurse Lenora Addison, director of Maternal Child Health at Harbor Hospital Center.

Devised by photojournalist Rick Smolan, creator of the "Day in the Life" series of books; Phillip Moffitt, the former editor in chief of Esquire magazine; and physician and photo-journalist Matthew Naythons, the 1990 "Power to Heal" project received heavy financial support from such corporations as Eastman Kodak Co. and Parke-Davis.

Two identical photo exhibitions tour the country, primarily visiting medical schools and hospitals, says Aaron Schindler of Photo Perspectives, a New York company which curates and circulates photography exhibits.

The exhibition at Harbor Hospital Center is the first showing of "The Power to Heal" in Maryland.

The exhibit explores topics such as how daily life is shaped by a community's medical beliefs. In a photograph by Judy Griesedieck, a Pakistani baby squints through eyes smeared with the black powder his parents believe will insure good eyesight and protect against evil. Another section depicts traditions developed to heal survivors. A photograph by Mary Ellen Mark shows a father pouring water from the Ganges River over the body of his son who died of meningitis. The expression on the man's face hints at the intimate depths of such formal farewells.

Other photographs, ranging from images of religious ecstasy at a Dallas church service to Asian meditative treatments, reveal the therapeutic powers of faith.

"This exhibition shows that there is more than one way of doing medicine and more than one good way of doing medicine," Dr. Aziz notes. "We don't often stop to think of the power of the mind and of how many people are healed just by their beliefs.

"This show focuses more on humans' ability to care," says Ms. Addison.

"It reminds us of what we need to do more of."

PHOTO EXHIBIT

What: "The Power to Heal: Ancient Arts & Modern Medicine," an exhibition of photographs showing various methods of treating illness throughout the world

Where: Harbor Hospital Center, 3001 S. Hanover St., in the first-floor exhibit hall

When: Today through Jan. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; show and parking are free

Call: (410) 347-3472 or 347-3478

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