Contained within the closed stores of the Wellcome Library is an unusual painting about light therapy, made by a now-obscure British artist, Beatrice Langdon. In 1938 she painted the Light Department of the Royal London Hospital, a work commemorating the impact of the Finsen lamp in the battle against tuberculosis of the skin (lupus vulgaris). Produced almost four decades after the institutionalisation of light therapy in Britain (1899), Langdon’s painting depicts the original, and by now obsolete, version of Finsen’s carbon arc lamp at a moment when the London Hospital was to refit new, smaller and more efficient lamps. The exact reasons for Langdon’s painting are, however, unknown, and this concluding chapter leads off from the mysteries and loose threads surrounding the work to discuss the many other silences, absences, and dead ends in the history of light therapy. It also explores contemporary images - a photograph by Danish photographer Nicolai Howalt and a campaign poster by Cancer Research UK and Nivea - to consider the UK’s ongoing ambivalent relationship with actinic light, which remains at once a source of health and of risk.
Ultra-violet radiation puts up the general resistance of the body to disease, and promotes good health and sexual power of citizens who by sedentary indoor lives during the winter have become depressed and out of condition […] Marasmic and delicate children may be made better, and mothers who cannot nurse their babies may be made more efficient. The general [carbon] arc bath affords a natural, simple, and valuable stimulant of the health functions of the body.1
(Leonard Hill, 1925)
Pigmentation is a sign that solar energy has been transformed into human energy. The rays of the sun are very powerful germicides. As the skin imbibes more of these rays, it stores up a great deal of this germ-killing energy … [and] once pigmentation has taken place, and a nice deep brown skin obtained, any length of exposure can be endured without the slightest feeling of discomfort. Also the body will have stored enough Solar energy … to fight against any outside disease-bringing influence which may attack him. Therefore, the first goal to be striven for by those who seek regeneration from the sun is, pigmentation. After that, health will come by leaps and bounds.2
(Victor Dane, 1929)
Jubilant smiles and radiant tanned skin greet the viewer from a mother and child gracing the cover of Hanovia’s 1940 ‘Homesun’ colour pamphlet (Plate 3). With all the warmth and intimacy of a family snapshot taken on a summer’s day, the colour photograph skilfully effaces its own careful construction: the precision of its retouching, particularly on the fine hairs of both figures; the familial setting, so far removed from the artifice of the studio; and the masterful capturing of the direct gaze, relaxed pose, and rascally smile of a difficult photographic subject, namely the toddler. Together these effects make for an image so ‘natural’ and informal as to seem suited equally to the family photo album or to the mass-produced advertisement. As the cover of a pamphlet catering to a middle-class British clientele, it curiously communicates nothing about the actual product, the ‘Homesun’ mercury vapour lamp (Fig. 4.11). Instead, as with the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover we encountered in Chapter 4 (Plate 1), the image conflates natural and artificial exposures, collapsing the distinction between experiences. These include the different outputs of sunshine versus the mercury vapour bulb (the latter considerably higher in ultraviolet radiation), the physical spaces of dark interior versus sunlit exterior, as well as erasing the technological mediation of goggles and electric components required for artificial exposures. This is only further confounded by the caption and the product name itself: ‘For health – fitness – beauty – Get back in the sun with a “Homesun.”’
Turning the page, contemporary viewers saw this conflation made in an even more overt, visual way (Plate 4). A female sunbather at the beach is stripped, flipped, and transported to the modern boudoir, exchanging the buzzing rays of a highly stylised orange sun for the ruler-edged, white block projecting forth from the lamp’s curving, shiny head. What remains of her beach fantasy, back in the drab grey tones of her sophisticated urban dwelling, is colour: a saturated, near-fluorescent orange that marks out the ultraviolet rays’ good effects in the form of a radiant, glowing tan. It is the same orange colour coating the skin of mother and baby, where it is further offset by the purplish-blues of the mother’s flamboyant, floral patterned robe (Plate 3). Elsewhere in the pamphlet are many other partially coloured, heavily retouched photographs, through which the highlighted tans of ‘Homesun’ users become more and more pronounced, if not outright alien (Plate 5).
This chapter is devoted to the subject of suntan (pigmentation) and the social and political significance of the British public’s avid consumption of ultraviolet radiation. There have been frequent references to suntan throughout the book but here it takes centre stage, as it does in the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet cover. I discussed suntan briefly in Chapter 2 as we waded through the varying, competing definitions of solar erythema (often described as ‘sunburn’) among light therapists and its ambivalent role in ‘dosing’ light. Suntan had its part to play as well, some perceiving it a help, others a hindrance, in the healing process. In order to understand the place of suntan in light therapy we must explore how it was defined and conceptualised by physicians and popular promoters, and furthermore how that information was disseminated into the public domain. This is integral to comprehending its value, by which I mean its therapeutic and social worth and how that worth was bound up with gradations of pigment – with colour values (see Chapter 1). Like solar erythema, pigmentation above all was understood in a visual way; it was a visible marker of changes happening on, and in, the body upon exposure to light, and specifically to ultraviolet radiation.
How is this different from sunburn as a visual ‘anchor’ (Chapter 2)? Because of their different durations they had different roles to play: if solar erythema was an initial sign of the body’s responsiveness to actinic light, pigmentation was a later, more permanent sign of its good effects and thus a gauge of long-term prognosis for the patient. Curiously, unlike solar erythema, pigmentation did not undergo attempts at standardisation. It was not graded, measured, or compartmentalised in charts or through devices like armlets. Albert Eidinow (NIMR) stated outright in 1925 that ‘There is no method available at present to determine the degree of pigmentation in any definite units’, nor did one develop in subsequent years.3 The desire for pigmentation manifested differently from that of solar erythema as well, a desire that was explicitly aestheticised, sexualised, and primivitised. It also played a leading role in preventive, public measures.
For Victor Dane, a popular promoter and controversial naturopath, pigmentation was the visible manifestation of ‘solar energy’ (ultraviolet radiation) stored in the body (see epigraph).4 He advocated both sunbathing and the use of lamps to poor and rich alike in his 1929 book, The Sunlight Cure. As is clear from the first epigraph by Sir Leonard Hill (NIMR), Dane was not alone in encouraging the public. Despite their vastly different credentials, they both perceived ultraviolet radiation as having the capacity to protect the body by stimulating its defensive powers against invading diseases.
Hill may have avoided producing pigmentation in his patients – preferring short, intense doses of ultraviolet light that produced only solar erythema, as we learned in Chapter 2 – but he proudly spoke of taking sunbaths himself and lectured to public audiences that bronzed skin was the marker of an ideal ‘A1’ citizen.5 Referencing a 1918 speech by Prime Minister David Lloyd George that ‘You cannot maintain an A1 Empire with a C3 nation’, military terms of fitness (A1) and unfitness (C3) for combat were extended to the public realm.6 Raising the standard of health became a national imperative, exacerbated by the catastrophic losses of the First World War. The public were encouraged to build up a ‘healthy tan’ progressively, avoiding sunburn, as a protective measure in popular newspapers.7 In Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’ pamphlet, Hill was cited directly as one of many authorities recommending its use, alongside Sir William Arbuthnot Lane (President of the New Health Society), the surgeon Sir Bruce Bruce-Porter, and the eugenicist Dr Caleb Saleeby (President of the Sunlight League).8 The ‘Homesun’ might be prescribed for personal curative use by one’s physician, but it was primarily designed for preventive use. Indeed, the pamphlet declared that physicians themselves had requested Hanovia invent a home-use lamp for preventive use by the general public, resulting in the first ‘Homesun’ model of c. 1928.9 Whether Hill invested different values in suntan for the curative versus preventive application of light is not clear, but his ambivalence towards it is indicative of larger conflicting attitudes that have much to do with eugenics, race, and public health at a time of heightened anxieties over Britain as a degenerating ‘C3’ nation.10
This chapter is about bodies of colour, of bodies saturated with radiation and visualised as literally ‘photogenic’ (light-generating). The words ‘radiant’, ‘glowing’, and ‘bronzed’ remain part of everyday language to describe suntan, they are now naturalised and normalised descriptors, but during the early twentieth century they became powerful, highly aestheticised evocations of the irradiated body’s emanating health. References to suntanned skin also as ‘bronzed’ (metallic, shiny and reflective), in particular, can be found in medical and popular literature alike.11 As with Chapter 4, this chapter focuses heavily on public advertisements, notably the ‘Homesun’ colour pamphlet, but also popular photographs in illustrated texts and the nudist magazine, Sun Bathing Review (1933–59). Through these images I explore connections between sunlight, sexuality, and tanned skin.
Many practitioners, government officials, and eugenicists greatly desired tanned skin for the British public, and manufacturers and tourist companies offered light for consumption in the battle against ‘sun starvation’. This, according to Hanovia’s pamphlet, was defined as the ‘shortage of ultra-violet rays’ marked by ‘pallor, sallow skin … combined with loss of “tone,” lack of energy, and low resistance to infection’.12 The ‘sun-starved’ body was therefore implicitly drained of colour, signalling a body drained of energy. In its many advertisements Hanovia made explicit references to light as a ‘food’ to be literally consumed, a vital nutrient for the body that the urban-dwelling British population lacked (Fig. 5.1).
In Countryman, January 1939, p. 454. Author’s collection.
As I explain in Section I, rich and poor alike received therapeutic exposures of light in hospitals, health centres, clinics, and at home, and, as they internalised and consumed the light’s penetrative rays, their bodies were perceived to gain unparalleled vitality and regenerative force, for the benefit of individual and nation. Natural and artificial light were directed onto mothers’ malfunctioning breasts, ‘backwards’ children, and wounded soldiers. In regenerating these highly valued subjects, practitioners and politicians alike perceived light as an aid to national salvation.13
Yet, as we discover in Section II, in encouraging citizens to emulate the dark skins of ‘primitive’ races, they betray deep-seated and ambivalent attitudes towards the merits of suntanned skin. This ambivalence resided in varying conceptions of suntan’s function (as a help or hindrance to bodily health), its duration (relative permanence), and its depth (colour saturation). Even Hanovia’s pamphlet expressed doubt towards ‘deep’ tans: The real value in using the lamp is not for the purpose of tanning; that is only incidental. The deeper the tan, the less benefit obtained’; and, ‘Exposures can be increased gradually up to long periods, but they only put more tan on to the skin, not more health into the body.14
The porous boundary between desire and fear towards suntan leaks out in black-and-white too (Fig. 5.2). Lewis Baumer’s (1870–1963) 1936 Punch cartoon uses close parallel lines to express the darker value of fashionable sunbathers’ skin. To the alarm of the uninitiated, their pigment, complemented by slick-backed hair, exposed flesh, and cigarettes in hand, denotes a new and confident sense of ‘respectability’ that ironically resided in negrophilia. In Sultry Climates, Ian Littlewood situated new desires for suntanned skin within the interwar period. He posited that the suntan was, and continues to be, an act of emulation for all things ‘black’, the pigmentation signifying a newly obtained, ‘borrowed’ primitivised sexuality. As such the tan was perceived, and perhaps today remains indirectly understood, as an erotic and hedonistic ‘cultural sign of the savage and the sensual’.15 In this context the suntan may have been displayed as a surface ‘coat’ or mask, a topical coloured pellicule (see Chapters 3 and 4) to be worn and shed at will by implicitly white participants, but as a sign, it was always more than skin-deep.16
Punch, 2 September 1936, p. 266. © Punch Limited.
The very legibility of the tan, its colour value and its extent of coverage on the body, could equally be read in terms of regeneration – of healing, adaptation and growth – or degeneration – of primitivism, atavism, and base sexuality. That so many light therapists, who actively encouraged and desired pigmentation as the path to the regeneration of both individual and nation, held eugenic beliefs brings such tensions to the (skin’s) surface. With the photogenic bodies of Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’ users guiding my analysis, this chapter investigates suntan as simultaneously a visual marker of recharged health and a troubling act of racial transgression during a period of developing eugenic fervour in Britain and Europe.
I Understanding suntan
The role of suntan (pigmentation) was, like that of solar erythema, hotly debated and ambivalently described by light therapists during the early twentieth century. In the majority, practitioners attributed to suntan a protective function of the skin, in which melanin acted as a natural ‘screen’ or ‘filter’ against the excessive action of ultraviolet light. This adaptive process was generally understood to follow after solar erythema had been produced, so that ‘sunburn’ and ‘suntan’ were understood as sequential reactions. However, much diversity of opinion existed even on these points, some physicians arguing that different wavelengths were responsible for solar erythema and for pigmentation, others adamant that suntanned patients could still be sunburnt (thus protective only to a certain extent), and still others that pigmentation was not necessarily a reaction only to ultraviolet light since it could be produced by a variety of sources, including chemicals irritants (e.g., mustard plasters) and disease (e.g., body lice, prurigo).17
As discussed in Chapter 2, in Britain leading researchers Sir Leonard Hill and Albert Eidinow of the MRC’s National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) considered suntan a hindrance to the therapeutic process because it performed its protective role too well: once pigmentation had been produced, it impeded the penetration of ultraviolet radiation’s further beneficial effects into the body, necessitating longer and longer exposures. For this reason they recommended short, intense doses that aimed to produce only mild erythema – a transient, light ‘sunburn’ that would not result in pigmentation. This method was not only more economical (requiring shorter running times of the lamps), it kept the patient’s body in a light-sensitive state and, implicitly, white.
In opposition, other equally well-respected practitioners, such as Britain’s leading heliotherapist Sir Henry Gauvain of the Treloar Hospital for Crippled Children in Hampshire, considered pigmentation vital to the cure. They avoided producing solar erythema in favour of pigmentation through careful, graduated acclimation. In doing so Gauvain followed the widespread method of the famous Swiss heliotherapist, Dr Auguste Rollier (Fig. 2.10). For Rollier and his fellow countryman, the surgeon and heliotherapist Oskar Bernhard, as well as many French heliotherapists, pigmentation was celebrated early on as a gauge: a key, visual indicator of the therapy’s efficacy and thus a sign of prognosis.18 It was described in the 1910s by Professor Louis Landouzy, the dean of the faculty of medicine in Paris and one of the first vice-presidents of the French Eugenics Society, as a ‘barometer’ of the cure, a natural instrument with which to forecast therapeutic success or failure.19 The idea held considerable currency in Britain, in spite of Hill’s different method. As the well-known promoter of ‘helio-hygiene’ and the founder of the Sunlight League, the eugenicist Dr Caleb Saleeby, noted in his 1923 Sunlight and Health,
we must remember that pigmentation of the skin is a marked feature of the sun-cure, and that patients who do not pigment well do not progress well[;] no one who has seen and touched the typical pigmented skin of a heliotherapeutic patient can doubt that very active chemical processes are there occurring.20
By 1929, Dane still described it thusly in his popular treatise to the public:
Pigmentation is the gauge of the sun cure, and those parts of the body which are well pigmented must be counted as richer in vital energy and in resistance to disease than other parts. Where an invalid does not take to the sun easily it means that progress is slow.21
In the previous chapter I explained there was much interest as to the depth of ultraviolet radiation’s penetration into the body’s interior. As more and more practitioners accepted ultraviolet radiation’s relatively minimal depth of penetration, confined to the skin’s upper layers, they tried to understand why and how these beneficial wavelengths instigated changes deep within the body, and they looked to pigmentation for an answer. Early on, Rollier argued that pigmentation was a ‘transformer’ of light wavelengths, converting ultraviolet rays into heat rays, which were known to penetrate deeply into the body.22 He equally argued that pigmentation naturally inoculated the body from infection, an exterior shield that allowed the body to withstand invading attacks of epidemic fevers, rashes, and acne.23 Of Rollier’s British followers, Gauvain explained the transformative powers of melanin as analogous with those of chlorophyll:
Pigment once formed appears to have two effects: it has a protective rôle and permits prolonged exposure to light and air without danger, and it has been suggested that it has a transforming faculty, converting the physical energy of sunlight into chemical energy which can be made use of in the body on the analogy of the chlorophyll pigment of the plant.24
Others compared chlorophyll with the blood as another sensitised substance with the power to transform light wavelengths.25 Hill and Eidinow sceptically acknowledged Rollier’s conceptions of pigmentation as a ‘transformer’ and ‘sensitiser’ but remained ambivalent as to whether melanin could simultaneously enable (‘transform’) and hinder (‘protect’) ultraviolet radiation’s bodily penetration.26 In Sunshine and Open Air, Hill declared: ‘In the skin the pigment [like chlorophyll and pigment in the iris] acts as a screen protecting the deeper tissues from excess of radiation, and as a converter of light into heat, also as a sensitizer to the sensory nerves.’27 Yet, later in the same work, discussing the use of ultraviolet light to fight rickets, he pointed out that,
Pigmentation hinders the action; longer exposure is needed … [and] negro babies in New York are found to be more susceptible than white babies to rickets. This fact is against the view put forward by Rollier, that pigmentation is favourable for heliotherapy, and that the pigment acts as a transformer in the tissues of light rays into some other form of radiation, which has a beneficial effect.28
This is but one example of the ambivalent attitudes in Britain towards the role or ‘value’ of pigmentation to gauge light therapy’s efficacies. Further ambivalence existed when it came to different kinds of pigmentation, dependent upon the light source: mercury vapour lamps, carbon arc lamps, and natural sunlight could apparently produce different colour values, densities, and durations of pigmentation. Internationally, physicians cited that natural sunlight produced pigmentation more rapidly, ‘denser’ and longer lasting than artificial light.29 Of the latter, Dr James Sequeira noted pigmentation occurred quicker with carbon arc lamps than with mercury vapour lamps, and for Dr John Harvey Kellogg it was more ‘pronounced’ if produced by carbon arc lamps.30 Colour values were different too, and inconsistently so. Some described the mercury vapour lamp as producing a ‘pale yellowish-brown’, others a ‘greyish’ pigmentation.31 The ‘Homesun’, like the ‘Vi-tan’ and the ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’ (Chapter 4), was a mercury vapour lamp, yet Hanovia’s pamphlet advertised its beneficial effects with a highly saturated orange to denote users’ pigmentation (Plates 2–5). On colour variations, Eidinow stated,
The sun gives rise to a dark brown-black pigmentation. The Finsen [carbon] arc also gives rise to a dark-coloured pigment. The long white flame [carbon] arcs and tungsten arcs give a reddish-brown pigmentation, the mercury vapour lamp a pale yellowish-brown pigmentation. Patients who have been exposed to the sun and are black-skinned gradually lose their pigment, and become a lighter brown on exposure to the mercury vapour lamp or open long flame [carbon] arc.32
Just as Hill asserted pigmentation’s problematic role as a shield with reference to rickety ‘negro babies’, so Eidinow explained its curious loss, upon exposure to artificial light, in already black-skinned patients with specific reference to race. Above all, as a form of natural protection – a bodily adaptation – pigmentation was understood in relation to, and explanatory of, racial difference. It continues to do so today, under the politically correct categorisation of six skin ‘phototypes’, developed from the 1970s by American dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick.33
The colour of peoples and different races is thus easily explained: the nearer we approach the equator the darker the coloration of the skin becomes, and the more remote we go the lighter it is. The red and yellow colours of the Indians and Mongolians present characters of practical value in that they absorb all the chemical rays, but the black skin absorbs the luminous rays still more […] But, speaking generally a European who lives in tropical countries notices that his skin takes on a darker coloration, while the black colour of negroes who come to Europe is diminished in a sensible degree.34
In circular logic, racial differences and distribution played crucial roles for understanding the pigmentation of the (implicitly white) skin of the patient through frequent reference to the naturally dark, protective pigment of the ‘negro’.35 Eidinow’s and Finsen’s off-handed references to colour loss will crop up later in addressing eugenics, preventive health measures, and the ambivalent aesthetic desirability of ‘deep’ tans among white European and British citizens.
For now, it is worth noting one further, debated therapeutic function of pigment. The theory belonged to Dr Albert Jesionek, a German light therapist practising in Giessen and namesake of the Jesionek lamp. Attempting to understand how ultraviolet radiation penetrated deeply into the body, he reasoned that unknown substances in pigment itself might be passed into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body. By interrupting the treatment to ‘de-pigment’ patients – keeping them in the dark for intervals of time – these substances could be released as melanin was absorbed down into the blood.36 This was not the last time that practitioners toyed with intervals of pigmenting and ‘de-pigmenting’ patients. Jesionek’s theory gave rise to a more general conceptualisation of pigmentation’s value; namely, that it physically absorbed and ‘stored’ ultraviolet radiation. Dr Elizabeth Anderson (Middlesex Hospital) explained in 1935: ‘It is possible that pigment also stores up the products of ultra-violet irradiation of the skin, liberating them by degrees, and thereby prolonging and enhancing the chemical effects at a later date.’37 Like the blood, pigment was perceived to possess key absorptive properties that rendered the body literally photogenic.
As mentioned above, the analogy of chlorophyll was confusingly applied to explain the functions both of pigment and blood. Sensitised to actinic light and able to ‘store’ absorbed radiation, pigment and blood fascinated practitioners as the primary carriers of light into the body. If ultraviolet light only minimally penetrated the skin, its internalisation (consumption) was theoretically explained using the laws of physics: Draper’s Law (1842) stated that light can only act where it is absorbed, a law that was influential not only to light therapists but to photographers like Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (see Chapter 3), searching for methods to capture light’s full spectral range onto sensitised plates – in other words, to the beginnings of colour photography.38
That blood absorbed actinic light was known to Finsen: ‘no living tissue absorbs so much light as the blood, and, more than that, the blood absorbs a considerable quantity of the [ultra]violet rays’.39 His method for treating lupus vulgaris with local phototherapy, however, was orientated around blood as a problem, a far too efficient screen that, like pigmentation, hindered light’s penetration. Finsen sought to drain blood away from lupus vulgaris lesions by means of compressors, hoping for deeper penetration of the actinic rays to reach the source of tuberculous infection (Fig. 2.7). But his perception of blood as an inhibitor to the internalisation of actinic light gave way to widespread views that blood enabled its bodily consumption.
Light absorption of the blood preoccupied British researchers. As Dr William Beaumont, medical director of the Institute of Ray Therapy, succinctly put it: ‘It is the absorption of the electro-magnetic waves that is the basis of ray therapy.’40 At the NIMR, Hill, Eidinow, and Leonard Colebrook analysed irradiated blood samples during the 1920s to investigate light’s effects on human physiology. One major find, as stated in Chapter 2, was that ultraviolet light increased the blood’s bactericidal powers based on measuring raised haemoglobin levels, and this can account for Hill’s and Dane’s opening statements that light stimulated bodily ‘resistance’ to disease.41 Case studies routinely reported haemoglobin levels before, during, and after light treatment.42 (It should also be reiterated that Hill’s team had discovered that overdoses could lower the blood’s germ-killing powers, necessitating careful dosages of ultraviolet light.)
In popular books for the public, such as Dane’s, the language chosen to explain the light’s stimulation of the blood and its production of highly desirable pigmentation is significant; it is the textual equivalent of Hanovia’s visualisation of saturated, glowing orange suntans (Plates 2–5). Both textually and visually these publicly disseminated representations might seem at first to verge on pure hyperbole. For instance, in the 1926 English translation of Dr Franz Thedering’s Sunlight as Healer: A Popular Treatise, which notably included a foreword by Lane (the New Health Society’s president), light absorption of the blood was conveyed as follows: ‘The general effect of light, its influence on the blood and metabolism, is based on the power of the rays to penetrate the tissues and, caught by the blood, to be “absorbed,” so that the blood is loaded with irradiative energy.’43
What did it mean for the body, and specifically the blood, to be ‘loaded with irradiative energy’? Was this hyperbolic?
Importantly, it was not. As with electro-therapy and other forms of radiation therapy, the underlying concept here was one of energy transfer.44 As Rollier stated, ‘light absorbed by blood changes it into a receptacle of radiant energy’.45 Like a battery or solar cell, this energy was absorbed, stored, and then depleted upon use, necessitating further exposures. Hanovia’s advertisements recommended ultraviolet light to revitalise the body on the analogy of ‘winding up a clock’, and advocates of light’s health benefits continue today to speak of ‘storing’ up ultraviolet energy to supply British bodies with vitamin D during the winter months.46
Dane explained that ‘solar energy’ was converted into and stored as ‘human energy’, externalised by a glowing tan (see epigraph). For Thedering, Dane, and many others the blood, like pigmentation, was fundamental to internalising and ‘storing’ light rays. Once saturated with irradiative energy, the skin and blood were described internationally by practitioners as having the capability to produce their own light. Eidinow wrote in 1925 that, ‘When the skin is irradiated with ultraviolet rays it has been shown to demonstrate marked fluorescence’, while others reported early experiments that irradiated blood could make impressions on photographic plates by giving off ultraviolet energy.47 Blood analyses, carried out at the NIMR and in Germany by paediatrician Kurt Huldschinsky, also indicated that light increased the body’s production of calcium, closely associated with the discovery of vitamin D and the treatment of rickets. But so too were levels of phosphorus (phosphates) raised in the blood, bringing to mind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901–2), in which the demonic beast glows by means of phosphorus.48 Like the doomed patients of over-zealous radium experiments, bodies saturated with ultraviolet light were perceived to literally glow.49
Punch cartoons played on these associations by conflating child users with the modern and shiny metallic surfaces of home-use technological apparatus, and even with the light itself (Figs. 5.3–5.4): little ‘Chromium’ and ‘Ultra Violet Ray’ take their artificial exposures in modern, sophisticated urban dwellings, to the delight of their progressive parents.50 Note also that Baumer’s 1936 Punch illustration gives the tanned skin of his hip figures depth and shine with highlighting, achieved through negative white space on their cheeks, necks, arms, and legs (Fig. 5.2). In 1930s posters for Rollier’s Leysin sanatoria and the British Wiggleworth’s ‘Golden Tan’ sunscreen (Plates 6–7), the lithe contouring of attractive, healthy bodies is emphasised by bold white outlines.51 In these representations the ‘photogenic’ body – beautiful because it is irradiative and pigmented – is proudly displayed by means of dynamic colour offset by white contouring: Jacomo Müller’s leaping figure is further outlined in bright red, encapsulating an entirely black silhouette, while the ‘Golden Tan’ users present glowing, rounded forms by means of gradations of dark and light brown highlighting. Returning to the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet (Plates 2–5), the glowing, saturated suntans of Hanovia’s smiling models are equally compelling precisely because they appear to generate their own light. Bordering on fluorescent, the orange pigment coating the ‘Homesun’ users emerges forth from the din of black-and-white surroundings, shocking and delighting the eye.
Punch, 26 September 1934, p. 337. © Punch Limited.
Punch, 1 January 1935, p. 23. © Punch Limited.
Of the varying ways the body could internalise light, so far we have learned that practitioners conceptualised pigmented skin and blood as highly absorptive, photosensitive, and even photogenic upon saturation with ultraviolet radiation. But patients’ bodies were also perceived to consume light directly through the orifices: the ears, nose, and throat; the mouth; as well as the vagina, urethra, and anus (Fig. 5.5). Unsettling images of these techniques are confined to irradiation of the mouth, especially in dental light therapy (Fig. 5.6). In Chapter 4, we encountered experiments to transilluminate and penetrate the body with light by means of applicators, lenses, and mirrors. In the case of Figure 5.6, a 1928 photograph demonstrating treatment of gingivitis by the British dentist Francis Talbot, a patient appears to physically consume or ‘eat’ the light. It is clear from advertising copy and popular literature that the notion of ‘eating’ light went beyond convenient metaphor: consumption here was literal, even if Talbot’s patient strikes us as an extreme example.
In Actinotherapy Technique (Slough: Sollux, 1933), inset between pp. 44–5. Author’s collection.
In Francis Talbot, Actinotherapy for Dental Diseases (London: John Bale, Sons & Danielsson Ltd, 1928), Figure 6, opposite p. 63. Wellcome Library, London.
Raymond Williams remarked that ‘consumption’ is a peculiar bodily metaphor to describe the public use of goods and services, having little relevance to explain how people actually use and engage with the things they buy.52 However, in the case of light therapy it is vital to understanding how light was ‘consumed’ by patients and the British public. Just as radium could be ingested in the form of radioactive chocolates and toothpaste, so could ultraviolet radiation enter the body through one’s pores by means of impregnated creams and orally via irradiated bread and milk.53 Interwar advertisements for ‘Ultraviolet ray cream’, ‘Sunshine bread’, and ‘Ultraviolet ray bread’ appear in local newspapers while, more reputably, milk treated by ultraviolet lamps was advocated by leading physicians.54 Notable among these was (later Sir) Edward Mellanby, professor of pharmacology at the University of Sheffield and consultant physician at the Royal Sheffield Infirmary, who conducted pioneering research on rickets. At the infirmary, one of Mellanby’s colleagues, S. J. Cowell, carried out MRC-funded experiments in which he gave milk exposed to ultraviolet radiation to rickety children and noted marked improvements in bone calcification, in contrast to a control group of children given ordinary milk.55
Earlier, Huldschinsky (1919) and American paediatrician Alfred Fabian Hess (1921) both provided evidence that rickets could be treated with artificial or natural sunlight and, along with Mellanby and the American biochemist Elmer Verner McCollum, conducted research that led to the discovery of vitamin D during the 1910s–20s.56 Hess, as well as Harry Steenbock, professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, further showed that irradiating foodstuffs such as milk with ultraviolet light rendered them antirachitic, leading to many experiments from the 1920s onwards in which vegetables, oils, and cereals were exposed to ultraviolet lamps. As Sally Dunne Romano argued, ‘Thus, during the 1920s and 1930s the “cutting edge science” of the time, vitamin biochemistry, reaffirmed the health benefits of sunlight … and were well publicized in the popular press, which served to further solidify the popular connection between sunlight and health.’57
While many practitioners advocated vitamin D consumption solely through dietary means, such as cod liver oil, others promoted exposure to ultraviolet light as the best means to prevent or cure rickets in children. Some physicians even reported that cod liver oil itself was naturally impregnated with ultraviolet radiation once oxidised, making photographic impressions just as irradiated blood had been shown to do.58 During a period obsessed with diet, measuring national health, and advancing nutrition research, ultraviolet light was understood as a vital food source for the body.59
This notion that light could be ‘eaten’ occurs surprisingly early on, the French naturist Dr Albert Monteuuis describing sunlight as ‘solar nutrition’ already by 1911: ‘Because of the colouration of their skin and their manner of living semi-nude, Negroes are better adapted to feed directly on the rays of the sun.’60 Conflating diet and sunshine even further, the famous Danish gymnastics educator, Lieutenant Jørgen Peter Müller, described the process of consuming fresh fruit as ‘eating sunshine’, a popular way of expressing to the British public the importance of internalising sunlight.61 Dr Edward J. Deck, of the London Light Clinic (Pimlico), similarly declared in his 1926 populist book for the Sunlight League, The Sun and How to Use It:
It is the action of the Sun which causes the chemical changes that supply the nourishing properties of food […] The quality of milk is largely affected by the fodder on which the cows feed, and the quality of the fodder depends upon the amount of Sunlight it can absorb. It is essential for good milk that the cows should have a plentiful supply of green leaves which contain the necessary vitalizing properties, and these green leaves are themselves a Sun product. The highest quality of milk can only be produced by cows that are fed in the Sunlight on fodder growing in the Sunlight.62
To that end, pigs and cows were irradiated with lamps at ‘electric farms’ in Britain to impart the necessary ultraviolet energy to their flesh and milk.63 An article on ‘Vita’ glass in The Times’ ‘Sunlight and Health’ supplement promoted its use on farms, stating that vegetables ripened quicker and poultry bred and reared their young earlier, with the national implication that British market gardeners and poultry breeders could outstrip foreign competitors.64 Even cigarettes were irradiated by artificial sunlight; the tobacco ‘mellowed’ and became less irritable to the throat and lungs by ultraviolet light’s action.65
In a 1928 advertisement, Hanovia explicitly referred to ultraviolet light as a food to combat ‘sun starvation’: ‘Light is a necessity to life. Where the vital ultra-violet rays are cut off the community suffers. Thousands are only half fit because they are only half fed. It is not solid food they lack – it is light food.’ By eating sunshine, Britain’s restored urban dwellers would become profitable and productive citizens, with Hanovia ‘show[ing] the way to an A-I nation’.66 Invested in regenerating the British race alongside social campaigners like Saleeby and his Sunlight League, Hanovia marketed ultraviolet radiation as an aid to national salvation.67 The mother and child of its ‘Homesun’ cover (Plate 3) thus emerge as significant socio-political entities and their pigmentation as a politically loaded marker of citizenship. Put simply, they are model British citizens because they are tanned: they are beautiful (photogenic), well-‘fed’, fully functioning members of society.
II Radiant ‘primitives’
The body’s internalisation (‘consumption’) of light was registered by decidedly external signs. This invisible process needed to be assessed on visible changes and, moreover, visualised to disseminate its efficacies. Much of this book has concentrated on the reddening or bronzing of the skin. But it also manifested externally through the augmenting of bodily contours, such as improved muscle tone and weight gain, the closing of fetid wounds, and the expelling of necrotic bone and tissue. All of these were imaged in before and after photographs and discussed in case studies. Rollier was particularly adept at imaging these bodily alterations, focusing on the plump contours, bronzed skin, and closed tubercular lesions of his healed child patients. He even included photographs of fragments of diseased bone expelled by the body during the cure (Fig. 5.7).68
In Auguste Rollier, La Cure de soleil (Lausanne and Paris: Constant Tarin and Baillière & Fils, 1914), Plate 15. Martine Gagnebin and author’s collection.
Other bodily products were pulled forth from the interior, notably blood to the surface (hyperaemia) and milk out of the breasts. These last two were particularly valued when it came to treating women’s disorders, restoring impaired lactation and menstruation. As a result we find many references to physicians directing artificial sunlight onto women’s breasts, abdomens, and genitals, as well as inside the vaginal canal. When Hill spoke of ultraviolet radiation activating the ‘sexual power of citizens’ (see epigraph), it is clear the citizens he was especially keen to sexually activate were women. Light therapy was strongly centred on women’s procreativity and their children in public health measures. Indeed, one of the reasons rickets concerned practitioners so much was that it affected the normal formation of the female pelvis, affecting healthy child-rearing. The British obstetrician Kathleen Vaughan, for instance, argued that particular emphasis should be placed on irradiating future mothers of the race, namely girls fourteen and under, so as to provide sufficient vitamin D to fortify the bones with calcium before their pelvises deformed from rickets, which, she argued, was responsible for high maternal mortality rates.69 Light-therapy facilities at Labour-driven modern health centres, such as the Bermondsey Public Health Centre (1936, with lamps equipped by Hanovia) and the Finsbury Health Centre (1938, designed by Soviet émigré architect Berthold Lubetkin) were geared especially towards women and children.70
Perhaps it is not coincidental that Hanovia disseminated and advertised its products to the public with images of mothers and children (Plates 2–3). In its 1940 ‘Homesun’ pamphlet, expectant and nursing mothers were singled out as especially in need of ultraviolet irradiation due to depleted calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, lost during pregnancy to support the developing foetus. Hanovia also claimed the ‘Homesun’ lamp could prevent depression and morning sickness during pregnancy, a notion supported by contemporaneous medical recommendations.71
Irradiation of pregnant women occurred throughout Britain at various public health clinics and centres, especially at infant-welfare clinics. As one physician argued,
If there is a marked ultra-violet light deficiency [during pregnancy] the child will be malformed; great deficiency could produce a monster. If the mother has plenty of ultra-violet light the child starts life with a stored up amount of the products of light and is able to better resist disease.72
Again, note the perception that the baby would emerge from the mother’s womb already ‘charged’ with stored light rays, ready to face the world. Nursing mothers experiencing difficulties breastfeeding their newborns were additionally treated at these centres, among them the North Islington Infant Welfare Centre, where Dr Dora Colebrook worked during the mid-1920s. Before her damning reports on light therapy (see Chapter 2), she reported successful cases of working mothers whose failing lactation was restored or improved, particularly those who attended regularly and learned how to weigh their babies before and after feeds so as to track the milk quantities produced and ingested.73 Surveillance and careful conditioning of ‘scientific’ habits meant these working women could prove to be productive members of society, in keeping with the cult of ‘scientific motherhood’ in vogue at the time, and thus ideal ‘race mothers’.74
Dr Catherine Chisholm, the first woman in Manchester to obtain a medical degree and founder of the Manchester Babies Hospital, similarly conducted a study on the benefits of irradiating nursing mothers at the Manchester Municipal Sun Clinic in 1927.75 Those mothers with depleted calcium levels – thus endangering themselves and their newborns to rickets – and those experiencing difficulties breastfeeding underwent general phototherapy to the whole body as well as local phototherapy on the abdomen and breasts. Hanovia’s 1933 handbook for practitioners, Actinotherapy Technique, advised treating impaired lactation locally with the Alpine Sun Lamp, aiming to produce second- or third-degree erythemas on the breasts.76 Babies already affected by rickets could be cured by irradiating the mother, who would then – ‘loaded with irradiative energy’ – pass on her antirachitic milk to her infant.77 The milk supply therefore was not only increased but considered more nutritious. In Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’ pamphlet, both mother and child receive these restorative exposures, their bodies glowing with the saturated radiation impregnated within (Plate 2).
More invasive treatments involved ultraviolet radiation inserted directly into the vagina. British practitioners were guided by German methods, such as those developed by Dr Wilhelm Flaskamp of Erlangen University’s Gynaecological Clinic. He spoke at the second International Conference on ‘Light and Heat in Medicine and Surgery’, held at the University of London in 1928 and organised by Drs William Russell and Richard King-Brown (the latter Bermondsey’s medical officer of health and editor of the British Journal of Actinotherapy and Physiotherapy). The paper and its responses were published in the conference proceedings, and the comments by British physicians indicate they were particularly receptive and intrigued by Flaskamp’s special devices and methods. These included a ‘light bidet’ and various applicators that were added as extensions onto mercury vapour and carbon arc lamps (Fig. 5.8).78 With these he treated external genital inflammations (e.g., vulvitis, ulcers and traumas such as tears), internal infections such as thrush and vaginitis, as well as many uterine conditions, including endometritis and even tumours on the fallopian tubes. Gauvain similarly spoke of treating lupus of the vulva with local light treatment at Treloar’s.79
In Wilhelm Flaskamp, ‘Light and Heat Therapy in Gynaecology’, Light and Heat in Therapy (London: Actinic Press, 1929), Figure 1–5 between pp. 32–3. Wellcome Library, London.
In this respect, the history of light therapy shares important similarities with those of X-ray and radium therapies, both heavily focused on treating gynaecological disorders and internal cancers, especially of the cervix (see Chapter 4). Radium tubes, applicators, and needles were ‘packed’ into the vaginal and uterine canals to treat cancerous growths, known as ‘radium bombs’ (Fig. 5.9).80 As Matthew Lavine explained, radiotherapy’s intense focus on irradiating the female reproduction system could be viewed
as a reflection of the persistent sexual undertone that attended discussion of x-rays: ‘exposure’ suggests voyeurism. Nervous jokes about electrical pepping toms and lead-lined undergarments were a commonplace of nuclear culture, and ubiquitous in its early days. (Radium, too, was sexualized: it was broadly understood to be somehow ‘alive’, and that vitality quickly became equated with sexual potency via patent medicines aimed at both sexes.)81
5.9 George Edmondson Birkett, placement of radium tubes for the treatment of cervical cancer at the Fondation Curie.
In G. Dupuy, Radium Therapy (London: Cassell & Co., 1931). Wellcome Library, London CC BY-NC 4.0.
X-ray proof underwear, for example, was offered to protect women from the rays’ penetrative gaze by a London dry goods company during the 1890s at the height of X-ray ‘mania’.82 Female genitalia were thus seen to be especially responsive to these ‘exposures’, both overtly benefiting from and covertly vulnerable to the effects of short-wave radiation. Ultraviolet radiation must be included among this therapeutic group of penetrating rays, desirable for specialised gynaecological use while simultaneously threatening moral and physical harm. Dr William K. Russell, for example, may have welcomed Flaskamp to speak at the 1928 conference, but in his 1925 book, co-authored with his wife and colleague Dr Eleanor Russell, they stated that, ‘clothing materials which are partly transparent to ordinary light are also penetrable by ultra-violet rays. This is of importance when children or ladies are being treated, as exposure of surfaces not intended to be irradiated could easily result in the occurrence of erythema in undesired places.’83 They more explicitly stated that the genital organs should be covered during general treatments.84 For the Russells, the dangers posed had to do with painful erythema (sunburn) production in sensitive areas, but for others the concern lay with the ultraviolet light’s action on menstrual blood. Ultraviolet light was prized for its ability to increase blood flow (hyperaemia) as a way of relieving pain, removing toxins, and carrying light energy to the tissues and organs. When it came to the blood circulating within women’s reproductive organs, however, ultraviolet radiation could be both a blessing and a curse. Women suffering from amenorrhoea (the absence of menstruation) or dysmenorrhoea (painful or difficult menstruation) were considered especially suited to light therapy, with Flaskamp and others recommending ultraviolet light to restore proper functioning. But women being treated for other gynaecological conditions – indeed ‘normal’ women in general, including ‘Homesun’ users – were told to avoid light exposures during menstruation for fear of excessive blood flow.85 As stated in the last chapter, one female user apparently suffered a miscarriage through misuse of a home-use lamp.
More broadly, such perceptions about ultraviolet radiation’s effects on female procreativity are fundamentally intertwined with widely held views that southern, tropical climates accounted for earlier puberty in young girls, especially among Arabic and black African women.86 Heliotherapists on the Mediterranean coast made specific note of this, and not simply to the climate’s heat but to its luminosity as responsible for early menstruation and thus early sexual maturity:
On the Mediterranean coast and in particular on the Riviera, menstruation is more precocious than in the climates of the North. Young girls in general have regular periods by 10 or 11 years old; and this is not a fact of atavism, the same phenomenon is observed amongst other children whose families, originally from the North, come to live on the Côte d’Azur, and it is to the great stupefaction of their parents.87
For heliotherapists, the Côte d’Azur’s intense luminosity made it especially beneficial to women’s ‘functional troubles’.88 In a publication on light and gynaecology, Dr Malvine Brody of Grasse declared that ultraviolet light could even reverse premature menopause, restoring menstruation in mature patients.89 Hanovia similarly declared in an advert that ‘Women undergoing the change of life escape the troubles encountered at this time and enjoy restored health’ with the use of their lamps.90 At a time when France, like Britain, was rife with fears of depopulation, and the French Eugenics Society headed by leading childcare physicians such as obstetrician Adolphe Pinard and paediatrician Eugène Apert, heliotherapists’ faith in ultraviolet radiation’s procreative powers should not be overlooked.91
Beliefs in the rays’ stimulating, sexualising powers in warm, sunny climates were not confined to practitioners. Intriguing similarities exist in the realm of popular literature, particularly the work of D. H. Lawrence, who himself had pulmonary tuberculosis and convalesced on the Côte d’Azur, in Bandol and Vence, where he died in 1930.92 In Lawrence’s short story ‘Sun’ (c. 1926), the protagonist, Juliet, is sent to the Italian Riviera for her health. Experiencing fatigue and ‘women’s troubles’, her doctor prescribes sunlight. Lawrence portrayed her prescribed sunbathing as a hedonistic experience by now characteristic of both rivieras:
Every day, in the morning towards noon, she lay at the foot of the powerful, silver-pawed cypress tree, while the sun strode jovial in heaven. By now she knew the sun in every thread of her body. Her heart of anxiety, that anxious, straining heart, had disappeared altogether, like a flower that falls in the sun, and leaves only a little ripening fruit. And her tense womb, though still closed, was slowly unfolding, slowly, slowly, like a lily bud under water, as the sun mysteriously touched it. Like a lily bud under water it was slowly rising to the sun, to expand at last, to the sun, only to the sun.93
In Lawrence’s story, Juliet has nothing less than therapeutic sex with the sun. Her ongoing, submissive exposure to the masculine sun’s penetrative energies restores her sexual dysfunction, she feels inside ‘darker and more savage’ and revels in her body’s – as well as her exposed infant son’s – ‘rosy-golden’ tan.94 Again, such representations may strike us as hyperbolic, but Lawrence’s sexually charged language can be similarly found in contemporaneous, populist treatises. Influenced by Indian practices, Dane’s book recommended, ‘Whilst having a sun-bath the vital energy should be visualized, pouring into the system and clearing away disease as a ball knocks over ninepins; man should feel it filling the whole of his being with health, strength and radiant vitality.’95 The reader addressed here is male, but the book, whose cover features a man, woman, and child facing the piercing graphic rays of the sun, was clearly intended for the whole family. Dane advocated natural and artificial light exposures to both sexes suffering from ‘glandular inactivity’, which included ‘menstrual troubles, difficulties during puberty, and impotency’ and echoed the wider medical literature.96
While the Russells sought to protect the genitals from ultraviolet radiation with dark fabrics in the vein of X-ray-proof underwear, social-reform groups like the Men’s Dress Reform Party, well-known practitioners like Hill, and manufacturers producing ultraviolet-permitting silk fabrics like ‘Celanese’ lingerie suggest wider initiatives to increase exposures to the reproductive organs rather than limit them.97 The nudist journal, Sun Bathing Review: Journal of the Sun Societies (f. 1933) and its influential founders promoted nude sunbathing with a fascinating mix of highly eroticised images alongside extracts of medical literature by Britain’s leading light therapists.
The subject of genitalia, unfettered by fabric and exposed to direct sunlight, was discussed in the journal by physicians and psychologists, among them the highly respected British psychologist, John Carl Flügel. In his 1933 article, extracted from The Psychology of Clothes (1930), Flügel spoke of the delights of ‘skin eroticism’ by the play of air and light on the body’s surface.98 In the same issue, Dr J. A. Braun argued that ‘The human body was never meant to be covered with clothes; it is the seat of an intense radio-activity receiving and emitting waves, and this transmission cannot be performed if the body is isolated by clothes from light and air.’99 He described the unclothed body as emanating or breathing light energy, its vital functions led by the sex glands and craving light’s stimulating powers. The nudist’s conception of ‘sunbathing’ was therefore, in practice, quite different from those who flocked to beaches or lidos clothed in swimwear or shielded by parasols. For physicians like Thedering, the nudist’s ‘natural’ lifestyle bordered on ‘solar fanaticism’.100
Early on, the cover of Sun Bathing Review featured an engraving by artist Robert Gibbings, who also helped to found the journal and contributed articles.101 Post-Cubist maternal bodies, a muscular adult male and a confident, standing child occupy the grassy shores of a secluded pond (Fig. 5.10). Gibbings’ economy of line skilfully conveys elegant poses of sun worship in a few key strokes. Within a few years this image was replaced by photographs, in keeping with its interior, which was replete with black-and-white photographs of nude models and lay enthusiasts.
Tentatively hedging the boundary between art and pornography, Sun Bathing Review pictured photographs of nude, suntanned skin in a variety of settings and styles, but the full-page spreads feature highly aestheticised photographs in which genitalia, when visible, are ambivalently effaced by means of obvious retouching (Fig. 5.11).102 Such deliberation and effort indicate a conscious desire to maintain ‘decorum’ while simultaneously revelling in the glories of exposed, photogenic bodies, no doubt both titillating and reassuring its readership. Indeed, the journal encouraged the public to expose their fully nude bodies not only to natural and artificial light but also to their personal cameras: it ran a competition for readers to send in their own nude sunbathing snapshots, which were judged and reproduced in subsequent issues in the well-established vein of bodybuilding magazines.103 This is not surprising when considering that the Health and Strength League, encapsulated by the figure of Eugen Sandow and with Müller as its vice-president, drove public interests in both bodybuilding and sunbathing, and later Sun Bathing Review was absorbed by the long-running Health & Efficiency magazine (f. 1900).
Sun Bathing Review, 1:1 (1933). The British Library and Hawk Editorial, publisher of H&E Naturist magazine, www.henaturist.net.
Sun Bathing Review, 4:15 (1936), cover. Hawk Editorial, publisher of H&E Naturist magazine, www.henaturist.net.
The journal also included advertisements for discreet photographic development by discerning printing companies, facilitating exposures for the public and journal in equal measure.104 By these means readers could interact with the journal as active participants in its formation and the naturist movement as a whole. Such interaction was performed through the careful surveillance of the self and others. This ‘healthy mode of sexualised looking’, to quote Lisa Cartwright, must be understood as being successful precisely because it naturalised medical knowledge about therapeutic light and medical practices of looking at the body.105 After all, the journal included reputable medical literature to support nude sunbathing, in which light therapy was called upon to legitimise naturism, just as it had legitimised large-scale public-health campaigns like those of the Sunlight League.106 In this way the medical gaze was not ‘replaced’ by the lay enthusiast’s self-reflexive gaze, but rather fully internalised as a normalised way of monitoring one’s own health.107 And, like the physician, the enthusiast’s visual gauge of progressing health was the tan.
Though men featured in some photographs, like the ‘Homesun’ cover the visual focus of Sun Bathing Review was overwhelmingly on women and children. One of its primary contributors was photographer Edith Tudor-Hart, whose photograph of general phototherapy at the SLHWC drove Chapter 3 (Fig. 3.1, c. 1934). For over a decade Tudor-Hart supplied Sun Bathing Review with photographs, predominantly of nude or semi-nude sunbathing children (Fig. 5.12). An early contribution of her photographs appeared in 1935, accompanying the words of none other than Sir Henry Gauvain in an interview on heliotherapy.108 In these photographs the children were usually shot at close range and appear relaxed, happy and confident – much like the child of the ‘Homesun’ cover (Plate 3) – and suggest familiarity and intimacy between photographer and subject. In addition to penning articles herself, Tudor-Hart also, less frequently, contributed photographs of nude women for the journal (Fig. 5.13). Notably in her work they are anonymised by artful turns of the head, away from the camera. Whether anonymity was deliberately desired by the models or by Tudor-Hart is unclear, but the effect simply facilitates the reader’s unobstructed delectation of exposed breasts and skin.
In Sun Bathing Review, 4:13 (1936), p. 5. Wolfgang Suschitzky and Hawk Editorial, publisher of H&E Naturist magazine, www.henaturist.net.
In Sun Bathing Review, 14:55 (1946), Plate 233, p. 62. Wolfgang Suschitzky and Hawk Editorial, publisher of H&E Naturist magazine, www.henaturist.net.
Suntanned skin held significant erotic charge for the photographers of Sun Bathing Review. Main contributors Bertram Park (the journal’s ‘Honorary Art Editor’) and Yvonne Gregory expressed intense interest in and preference for tanned models, which they discussed in their 1935 publication, Sun Bathers, and in an article for the journal on the difficulties of photographing nude bodies (extracted from a lecture Park gave at the annual congress of the Professional Photographers’ Association the same year). In both texts they described the photogenic superiority of ‘rich sun bronze’ over ‘lifeless’ and ‘colourless’ pale skin from the photographer’s aesthetic viewpoint. In the opening of Sun Bathers, Park and Gregory declared:
How much more beautiful is the rich sun bronze of many models now to be seen, revelling in the full enjoyment of the freedom and health which the casting off of clothes promotes. True, the joy of colour can only be fully appreciated pictorially with the paint-box, but in translating the colour to monochrome and working with the camera the warm tints of the air-tanned body have infinitely more life and luminosity than the almost dead complexion of a skin that has never really been touched by the light of day.109
For these photographers, pale skin proved a resistant subject to the searching eye of the camera and its photosensitive film, frustrating the production of quality, artistic prints. It was, quite simply, not ‘photogenic’. It was an aesthetic ‘dead’ end – an antagonist to the camera set in contrast to the ‘lively’ and ‘warm’ values of bronzed skin, which far more willingly complied as a light-generative surface, ripe for photographic capture. This is a curious reversal to the preferences of nineteenth-century photographers, who praised the aesthetic merits of, and ease of capturing, pale skin over darker tones.110
Primarily a photographic catalogue of plates, their book is replete with solo and group compositions with female-only nudes. Like Tudor-Hart’s photograph (Fig. 5.13), Park and Gregory’s plates, such as Siesta (Fig. 5.14), represent nude women in secluded outdoor settings like contemporary nymphs in their natural environments. The models were situated in either forest settings or against antique backdrops, as in Figure 5.14. The writer and journalist Alan Warwick, in the book’s introduction, singled out this plate as ‘one of the most beautiful in the book’, declaring:
The truth is that it is representative of woman sleeping naked by an ancient stone bath – sleeping lightly in the mellow sunlight, and as gloriously free and unselfconscious as the faint breeze that caresses her skin. I will go further than that, and say that for every hundred women of which that picture at one time or another is actually representative, it symbolizes the unvoiced longing of thousands of her sisters who, if they had the courage or the opportunity, would embrace the chance to be as free as she of the clothes complex and fear.111
In Bertram Park and Yvonne Gregory, Sun Bathers (London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd, 1935), Plate 35. William Thuillier and author’s collection.
For Warwick, the model’s photogenic skin, which erotically elicits both gaze and touch, made the photograph as equally titillating to his (male) gaze as to that of a vast female public audience; it provoked envy and didactically spread the naturist’s call for unfettered exposure, free of fear, for the greater good.
If we compare these ‘artistic’ popular photographs with medical photographs of female patients, the boundary demarcating popular from medical photography begins to crumble on aesthetic grounds. Bernhard’s 1917 Sonnenlichtbehandlung in der Chirurgie and its expanded 1926 English translation, Light Treatment in Surgery, included before and after images of graphic war wounds alongside erotically charged images of female patients (Figs. 5.15–5.16). The language of his texts uneasily mixed detached, technical, and scientific explanations of the therapy’s principles with subjective descriptions of his patients’ skin that border on the salacious. Like the editors of Sun Bathing Review, Bernhard attempted to take the moral high ground – writing that ‘sunning also must never contravene the rules of decorum’112 – yet images and interjections of deeply sexualised suntanned skin betray his firm conviction.
In Oskar Bernhard, Sonnenlichtbehandlung in der Chirurgie (Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke, 1917), Figure 51, p. 163. Author’s collection.
In Oskar Bernhard, Light Treatment in Surgery (London: Edward Arnold, 1926), Figure 86, p. 278. Author’s collection.
In Figure 5.15, a healed female patient’s bronzed skin positively glistens. At the age of twenty, this patient entered Bernhard’s care emaciated and with ‘sagging, loose skin’, presenting tubercular fistulae of the cervical glands as well as osteitis of the lower jaw and right foot, the latter also resulting in fistulae. Within eight months, she was transformed by heliotherapy; ten kilos heavier and fully healed, the caption proclaimed her in an ‘excellent state of health’. It concluded: ‘Revel in these recovered lush and beautifully modelled curves of the body and the smooth, stunning bronze-coloured skin.’113 Bernhard read his patient’s health by her aesthetic lines, surface texture, and colouring, like an art connoisseur analysing a painted nude. The figure’s position in the photograph allows for both the right side of her lower jaw and her right foot to be visible in one frame, the white markings indicating cicatrised tissue and thus closing of the fistulae. It also retains patient anonymity, her face turned away from the lens, like Tudor-Hart’s model. Yet, while composed for clinical observation, as an effective ‘after’ image, the photograph equally presents to us a modern bronzed odalisque or Venus au soleil like Park and Gregory’s photograph (Fig. 5.14), the viewer’s eye immediately drawn to the figure’s pronounced conical breasts and lithe form.
In Figure 5.16, the photographer (perhaps Bernhard himself) artfully arranged a twenty-four-year-old female patient atop a bed on his sanatorium’s terrace, with a dramatic backdrop of surrounding mountains and valleys. Turned onto her side, legs crossed, and a scarf over her head that conspicuously ensures anonymity, the patient offers an obscured view of her (unnecessarily) bare buttocks, twisted tantalisingly towards the camera. The point, surely, is to examine the plaster cast containing her back and torso, and the small window cut out from it to allow the sunlight to penetrate a lesion below. The caption explained she suffered from inflammation of the thoracic vertebrae (spondylitis dorsalis) and of the bones (osteitis), presenting fistulae in the sternum and the left clavicle. Bernhard concluded that after two years of heliotherapy, this patient had become the ‘mother of healthy children’. Significantly, here he proclaimed her return to health not through the healing of the lesions, weight gain, blood tests, or mobility, but specifically through her ability to procreate.
Like Lawrence’s Juliet, Bernhard’s patients regenerated their bodies by submission to the sunshine. The intensity of pigmentation in Figure 5.15, whether actual or produced by the lighting techniques, developing process, or retouching, is made extreme. White contouring was added along the figure’s face, either to aid anonymity or to heighten the contrast between skin and surroundings – an effect calling to mind the illustrated figures whose pigmented bodies are marked by white contours, in the advertisements by Jacomo and Wigglesworth (Plates 6–7). Like Park and Gregory, Bernhard ‘revelled’ in this degree of pigmentation, the tone of his language and his photographs suggesting he found heliotherapy’s efficacy for his patients aesthetically and even sexually stimulating.
He was not alone among practitioners to do so. Frequent references to suntanned skin as ‘beautified’, ‘delicate’, and simultaneously both softer and firmer to the touch occur in physicians’ texts internationally.114 Its appeal to tactility – calling out to the physician to touch it – can also be detected, as Saleeby was wont to do (above). So too was exposure to sunlight conceptualised as an act of being touched, ‘massaged’ or ‘kissed’ by the sun.115 Flügel, quoted earlier, waxed poetic about the erotic pleasure derived from experiencing sunlight upon the skin, and there are references to light therapy instigating not just a sense of well-being but actual euphoria in patients.116 Rollier was compelled to warn his medical colleagues by 1916 that patients had to be monitored to curb their ‘zeal’. The intense joy was so seductive that, left unsupervised, they exposed themselves for dangerously long time periods.117 But under appropriate surveillance, patients submissive to treatment – to the authority of physician and to the stimulating light itself – were rendered happy, compliant, and prone. The visual complements of Lawrence’s Juliet, the nudes in Bernhard’s and Park and Gregory’s photographs undergo the act of heliotherapy as one of willing receptivity to the sun’s penetrating touch and procreative energy, to be impregnated with and by light (Figs. 5.14–5.16).
Up to this point I have concentrated on light therapy’s engagement with women and its visual and literary rhetoric of producing healthy mother-citizens – exposing its deeply sexualised undertones in the process – to begin contextualising the therapy’s larger social aims and proclaimed national usefulness.
But let us not forget the toddlers and babies imaged in the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet (Plates 2–3, 5). The sheer quantity of visual and textual material about child patients evinces that they were the therapy’s major target group.118 Children were the subjects of, and subject to, multiple large-scale trials about light therapy, carried out by Hill, Gauvain, Colebrook, and many others, during its early development and heyday.119 Rollier’s Leysin sanatoria, Gauvain’s sanatoria in Hampshire, and the numerous infant-welfare clinics in urban areas throughout Britain (and internationally) – these institutions first and foremost treated children, curatively and preventively, especially for forms of tuberculosis and for rickets.120
Mental health was also believed to benefit from light treatment. Practitioners spoke of restored ‘brightness’ in children’s dispositions and cognitive functioning, and young children were irradiated, in clinics and at home, to treat ‘backwardness’.121 Dora Colebrook, undertaking research at the North Islington Infant Welfare Centre supported by the London County Council, mentioned ‘brighter’ babies and children as but one beneficial side effect of irradiation.122 A trial on child patients at Treloar’s showed their advanced mental activity in comparison to ‘physically defective’ London children, and Gauvain suggested this could be attributed to ultraviolet radiation’s improvement of ‘the nutrition of the grey matter of the brain’.123 ‘The bright eyes, bronzed skin, and firm flesh’ of Gauvain’s child patients were remarked upon by visitors.124 These valuable future citizens externalised their ‘brightness’ by being happier and smarter following irradiation. It makes the representation of the toddler in the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet especially poignant, with his rascally smile and engaging, direct gaze with the viewer: his photogenic body, his ‘glow’ or ‘brightness’, is a sign of both mental and physical health (Plate 3).
Like women, children were considered to be particularly responsive to ultraviolet radiation. In this respect they were frequently compared to plants and animals, finding their natural home outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight.125 Treloar’s ambulant child patients were commonly photographed in the Hampshire countryside and coast (Figs. 1.9–1.11, 5.17). Figure 5.17 depicts children undergoing heliotherapy while picking flowers, making an overt association between the tanned skin of Treloar’s young patients and the lush green vegetation surrounding them. The children were here in their ‘natural’ place, healing and growing in the sunshine like Alton’s wild flowers. The image is reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911): the protagonists Mary and Colin, once ill-tempered and sickly-looking children, gradually regain their health as they experience the rejuvenating powers of fresh air and sunlight. The vital connections made throughout the novel between the health and growth of the children and the secret garden find significant resonance within light therapy as well as naturist literature.126
In Katherine Gamgee, The Artificial Light Treatment of Children in Rickets, Anaemia and Malnutrition (London: H. K. Lewis and Co., 1927), Figure 10, p. 33. Wellcome Library, London.
Yet there was controversy over the particular photosensitivity of children’s skin. Such authorities as Hill, Eidinow, and Hamilton reported in the mid-1920s that children under three were apparently less sensitive to ultraviolet light than adults, showing milder erythematic reactions.127 Other contemporaries, like the Russells, stated the opposite, and significantly this was the medical opinion disseminated to the public.128 Articles in The Times and Sunlight warned parents of the dangers of exposing their children to the sunshine – not with intention of stopping them from doing it, however, only advocating that adults and children alike do so gradually, building up a ‘healthy tanned skin’ incrementally, in the manner of Rollier’s method (see Chapter 2).129
All of these benefits, physical, and mental, held political significance for a nation desirous of producing future ‘A1’ citizens from a current ‘C3’ population during the interwar period. As Roger Cooter explained, ‘by the 1920s child health and welfare was not only medicalized, it was serving as a powerful argument for extending the role of the state in health and welfare generally’.130 In Deck’s 1926 popular treatise (itself intended to promote and solicit funds for the Sunlight League), Colebrook’s North Islington Infant Welfare Centre was praised exuberantly for its targeted treatment of ‘thousands of slum children’, transforming each one into an ‘entirely new being’:
Cases of malnutrition, rickets, general debility and many forms of – so-called – nervous diseases have been treated in this way and the result is an immediate improvement in appearance, activity, appetite, weight, etc., and instead of these children becoming chronic invalids and filling our hospitals and institutions, they have a chance of developing into strong, healthy boys and girls, capable of employment and able to play their part in the battle of life.131
Three years later, Dane echoed that it was a parental responsibility to expose children, both curatively and preventively, to the sunlight on behalf of the degenerating, ‘C3’ nation: ‘Decide that you will be part of this scheme, that your children will be A1 specimens.’132 In clinics, young children were first introduced to lamps by being placed on their mothers’ laps to help allay fears, gain confidence, and ensure compliance.133 Mothers thus continued to play a central role in the treatment of children, nurturing and guiding these young, valuable citizens towards the light.
One of the first acts of the Sunlight League (f. 1924) was the organisation of heliotherapy facilities for children at Kenwood (Hampstead). Over the summer, thirty-five children, sent from ‘schools for the physically defective’ and from hospitals, were monitored by a medical committee and photographed.134 Before opening the Institute of Ray Therapy in 1930, Beaumont oversaw the children here. By 1925, he was also the honorary medical superintendent of another Sunlight League project, the Municipal Sunlight Clinic in St Pancras. The latter, when it opened its doors in March 1925, was partly funded by the Save the Children Fund and was enthusiastically described in The Times as London’s first clinic for artificial light therapy, operating out of an infant-welfare centre in Highgate. The child patients were referred for treatment via the ten infant-welfare centres in the borough of St Pancras, under the authority of its medical officer of health.135 Other boroughs quickly followed suit, and by 1931 Beaumont declared that ‘now clinics are springing up all over the country’.136
Many of the leading members of the league and the New Health Society (formed out of the People’s League of Health), including Sir Alfred Fripp and Hill, wanted natural and artificial light-therapy facilities available not only in clinics or in hospitals, but in every school. Hill suggested that carbon arc lamps be operated in schools by teachers, nurses, or other suitably ‘skilled attendants’, while ultraviolet-permitting ‘Vita’ glass replaced the school’s ordinary glass windows.137 Like the animals at the London Zoo, where lamps and ‘Vita’ glass windows were first experimentally installed, the children received natural and artificial exposures to vitalising ultraviolet rays, safely housed and supervised. As John Stanislav Sadar argued, by installing ultraviolet-permitting glass into British homes, zoos, and schools, these structures were themselves transformed, becoming ‘heliotherapeutic devices’.138 ‘Vita’ glass is but one example of new material products, alongside Celanese fabric, sunscreen, and home-use lamps (termed ‘socio-technical artefacts’ by Simon Carter) that facilitated public access to ultraviolet radiation beyond the light clinic or the trip to the beach or lido. Carter, Sadar, and Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska also made clear that these public measures, driven by groups like the Sunlight League, altered widespread attitudes towards ultraviolet radiation (and sunlight generally) during the 1920s into a natural, powerful source of preventive care for the individual and nation.139 As Deck described, ultraviolet radiation was producing ‘entirely new beings’, resistant to the degenerative influences and diseases of modern life, and was thus a weapon of social hygiene. It cut across class lines too: natural and artificial sunlight was enthusiastically aimed onto rich and poor alike, curatively and preventively, via local free and private clinics, hospitals, schools (especially open-air schools, enthusiastically promoted by the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis), outdoor parks and lidos, beaches, and home-use lamps.140
In the words of Bernhard, reflecting on his extensive experience utilising natural sunlight: ‘Air and sun had not only strengthened the body and provided it with weapons for a victorious fight with the infecting organism, but in this victory had armed it with immune bodies for future protection.’141 To this end, alongside mothers and children, soldiers and athletes were further target groups for curative and preventive exposures, couched in a rhetoric of sexualised potency and military efficiency. Both heliotherapy and phototherapy were used during the First World War, especially to treat wounds, by British, French, Swiss, and German physicians. Ultraviolet light was additionally relied upon to sterilise water and for signalling purposes.142 The war proved an unparalleled testing ground for applications of light, just as it did for other forms of modern medicine, and this was surely one of the reasons why light therapy emerged with such force during the 1920s and why it continued to be valued as a treatment during the Second World War.143 Beaumont reported an enthusiastic new influx of relatively healthy young men at the Institute for Ray Therapy in the summer of 1939, seeking to fix minor pains, acne, and low energy levels so as to avoid any chance of being turned down for service.144
The Swiss physicians Bernhard and Rollier undertook pioneering work during the First World War and wrote about their experiences, no doubt facilitated by their nation’s neutrality. In their publications they deferred to the work of French and German colleagues in equal measure.145 Bernhard used natural and artificial light to treat wounded German soldiers in 1914–15, then from 1916–17 acted as Swiss military surgeon to war prisoners’ camps in Germany, Britain, and northern France. Like Rollier, he brought back cases to intern in Switzerland at his facilities, which occurred until the end of the war and beyond it. Rollier discussed heliotherapy for war wounds in Le Pansement solaire (1916). He argued that heliotherapy healed wounds and maintained joint and muscle functions to the affected areas, rendering injured soldiers once again fit for work and ready for the ‘battle for existence’. This is why he described heliotherapy as a ‘conservative’ treatment, which avoided unnecessary amputations. He also cited it could aid surgical and orthopaedic therapy as well as plastic surgery.146 Rollier concluded the text by discussing the preventive use of heliotherapy in future military training, arming young soldiers with additional resistance to infections, chief among them tuberculosis.147
In Britain, phototherapy was used to treat wounded soldiers in Oxford, Newcastle, and London and at naval hospitals in Chatham and Haslar, while heliotherapy was used in Maidenhead under the direction of the Canadian Red Cross.148 The Simpson lamp, discussed in Chapter 4, was one particular model used to treat soldiers at London hospitals such as St Bartholomew’s, not only for wounds but also for venereal lesions. Ultraviolet light was particularly prized as a bactericide, naturally disinfecting wounds, as well as for its ability to induce suppuration, expel necrotic bone and tissue, and increase blood flow to speed healing. It also produced much more aesthetically appealing scar tissue (cicatrisation). Soldiers’ bodies were not only healed, they remained whole by avoiding the surgeon’s knife, and thus they could retain their status as valued and productive citizens during and after the war.
Like the soldier, the athlete found his body – and his masculinity – a special target of ultraviolet radiation. Athletes were advised to expose themselves to the ‘Homesun’ lamp in Hanovia’s pamphlet to counter ‘staleness’ through over-training, recharging lost energy and increasing ‘vital capacity’. Hanovia also boasted its lamps were used by professional footballers, a practice that was reported in local and national newspapers to improve athletic performance by means of increased stamina and general health. Among the clubs who used the technology were Northampton, Hull City, Chelsea, West Ham, Leicester City, Sunderland, and Glasgow Rangers.149 Hanovia included an image of champion boxer Jack Petersen receiving a vitalising exposure, his skin tinted a saturated orange like the other models’ and his contours crisply outlined from heavy retouching. A ‘hardy’ tan, as Carter explained, made for a virile man, representing ‘a visible link between the body, ideals of nature and masculinity’.150 Part of this process involved ‘training’ the skin to ultraviolet radiation and all manner of climatic conditions.
Hardening the body ensured increased virility for the truly fit man. Those who worked sedentary occupations and stayed chiefly indoors were, according to Hill, doomed to a ‘loss of breeding power’.151 The statement is not surprising. As we have seen already, one of Hill’s major arguments for regular exposures to ultraviolet radiation was that it increased the sexual power of citizens (see epigraph). This overt sexualisation of ultraviolet radiation, of its procreative powers and production of aesthetically desirable pigmentation, appears on the surface to have had overt eugenic ends: photogenic, procreative, and physically fit women and men meant ideal ‘race mothers’, A1 soldiers, and resultant ‘bright’, healthy babies. Significantly, Hill lectured widely throughout Britain using visual aids to make direct contrasts between sun-fed and sun-starved bodies to public audiences. In one lecture given in Leeds in 1926, he showed an image of a Graeco-Roman statue and contrasted the ‘almost perfect body’ – achieved through bodily exposure to fresh air and sunlight by practising sport in the open – to that of a ‘C3 man of today’ with a ‘malformed chest’, ‘contracted jaws’, and a ‘badly developed’ nose. Hill then further contrasted the image of the ‘C3’ individual to that of a contemporary young German, bronzed like a statue through naked outdoor exercise.152 During a time of heightened eugenic fervour, the suntan gained unparalleled social and political value in Britain and abroad. It is no coincidence, in other words, that during the first forty years of the twentieth century, when eugenics developed as a legitimate study of racial improvement throughout the globe, the suntan was celebrated as a sign of health and beauty. Indeed, it is precisely as an aesthetic that the suntanned body held value, particularly for eugenicists like Saleeby. That the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet was produced at the opening of the Second World War in colour is significant; its representations of coated, smiling models have (socio-political) value by virtue of being coloured.153 But equally important here is the colour value, the use of a highly saturated orange that borders on Technicolor. The values of suntan in eugenicists’ minds were slippery at best, positioned precariously on what might be understood as a sliding (colour) scale, (evolutionary) ladder, or (moral) compass. Suntan’s function, duration, and depth could simultaneously signal the white, British body’s renewed racial health and its impending degeneration.
Compare the ‘Homesun’ cover, a colour photograph (Plate 3), to the retouched and tinted black-and-white images in the rest of the pamphlet (Plates 2, 4–5). It is clear that, in the printing process, Hanovia tried very hard to replicate the colour tones of the models’ tanned skin in Plate 3 to represent users’ skin in the black-and-white images, however non-naturalistic the end results. Are we to read these coatings of colour as ‘bronzed’, ‘golden brown’ tans? The fluorescent colour value borders on the radioactive. Despite the use of highlighting in some of the figures’ bodies (e.g., Plate 4), we have less sense that it is an externalised reflection (‘shine’) than an interiorised projection of light (‘glow’).154 The common description of a ‘glowing’ or ‘radiant’ tan is fitting; pigmentation was perceived to be a manifestation of bodily photogenesis. Visually the colour orange is used consistently, and uniquely, throughout the pamphlet. In varying values it is used along the borders, for the titles of sub-sections, behind offset text as image captions, and most importantly to represent highly stylised suns. In Plate 4, for example, the bold orange of the sun (used also for the model’s hair and swimsuit in the ‘outdoor’ scene) is echoed in subdued values for skin, towel, and sand, then transported and mimicked below in the tanned skin of the model taking her ‘Homesun’ bath. A connection is made visually between the photogenic sun and the photogenic body, through colour alone. The sun’s vital energy is transferred to, consumed, and stored by the model, and likewise the lamp’s ultraviolet emanations are meant to impart equal, if not superior, power. The models are saturated by ultraviolet radiation, and this is expressed through saturated colour reminiscent of contemporaneous Technicolor films – representations that, according to Sarah Street and Tom Gunning, likewise struggled to successfully exploit colour as simultaneously naturalistic, or true to nature, and spectacular.155
An extreme colour choice, the orange in the ‘Homesun’ pamphlet is applied as a top coat to black-and-white skin, overlaid in the final stages of the printing process. It appears more like the artifice of make-up (Plate 5) than the deeply ingrained pigment embedded in the colour photograph (Plate 3). We might today liken it to the orange disaster that is the fake tan, an obvious, applied surface coat or mask that is not easily confused with the natural pigmentation of ‘black’ skin. It is a borrowing, mimicry, or even attempt at racial ‘passing’ gone wrong, provoking anxiety or ridicule.156
For early twentieth-century practitioners, patients, and naturists, similar anxiety resided in uneven colour complexion, especially the tanning of the face; in other words, in an even, convincing and total coverage that could enable – or disrupt – racial categorisation.157 In Baumer’s 1936 Punch cartoon, the alarm we are meant to read humorously on the face of the sunbathing initiate as she stares at her dark companion is significant (Fig. 5.2). She is alarmed because she witnesses a disruption of racial difference in her companions, in spite of the fact that their dark bodies retain the physiognomic facial characteristics of ideal British ‘whiteness’: pert nose, thin lips, small chin, and high cheekbones and forehead. The viewer knows the tanned bodies are ‘white’ but sees them as ‘black’. Furthermore, her alarm can be read as fear for her own body, her own sense of self. As the caption stated, the same transformation would soon happen to the initiate’s own white skin, and rapidly so, should she conquer her fears and give in to the pressure from her fashionable peers.
For David Batchelor, colour itself is feared and marginalised as trivial, as artifice, as ‘other’, and has been so throughout the history of Western civilisation, particularly in relation to art and architecture. He termed this ‘chromophobia’, describing the prejudice against colour as operating in two ways:
In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some ‘foreign’ body – usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. Colour is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both.158
Significantly, Batchelor argued its opposite, ‘chromophilia’, simply celebrates and even heightens these perceptions, much as early twentieth-century primitivism and ‘negrophilia’ revelled in so-called ‘primitive’ or ‘black’ aesthetics, fundamentally fuelling, rather than challenging, normalised perceptions of racial difference.159 In Baumer’s cartoon, the tan is simultaneously the source of negrophilic desire and negrophobic alarm. He playfully references the contemporaneous comedy of ‘blackface’ minstrelsy, yet takes a step too far – the pigmentation is too totalising, too deep. It is acquired pigmentation (colour) that curiously is represented as trendy, sexualising, trivial (hence humorous), and dangerous, all at the same time.
Such ambivalence resides in medical and popular understandings of suntan with respect to its depth and its permanence. Descriptions of suntan as a mere surface marker, residing only temporarily on the surface, occur frequently. A ‘coat’ or ‘mask’ to be worn and shed at will by white patients and enthusiasts, the tan finds analogy with cosmetics and clothing, and certainly as a shield or ‘screen’ demonstrated its protective function. Thedering described the tan as a ‘coat of armour’ for the body, for instance, while the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis described children’s bronzed skin as a ‘natural clothing’ in their 1921 film, Air and Sun.160 Beyond the pith helmet (solar topi), clothing designed specially for British travellers to the tropics mimicked ‘black’ skin. Ryan Johnson pointed out that, paradoxically, in doing so:
‘Black’ skin, the very characteristic that most obviously marked difference between colonizers and colonized and which was a source of so much racist commentary in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was also the very quality that British men and women sought to imitate while living in the tropical colonies.161
Adopting the natural state of the ‘savage’, colonisers wrapped themselves in manufactured tropical ‘skin’ as a means of protecting their vulnerable bodies against disease, degeneration, and the descent towards savagery itself. For Johnson, this paradox ‘unmasks the close connections that still existed between colonizers [white] and colonized [coloured], rather than a growing divide between the two’.162 Carter likewise pointed out the transgressing of boundaries between the two was carried out physically through their perceived ‘deviant’ sexual contact; that is, through racial miscegenation.163
Far more radically than in Baumer’s cartoon, the collapsing of distinction between ‘white’ and ‘coloured’, light and dark, takes place in the case of solarised photographs (Chapter 3). By the 1930s, infrared photography opened up another world, a world of strange reversals of light and dark in which pale skin appeared ‘black’ and vice versa, reminiscent of Man Ray’s positive and negative versions of Noire et blanche (Kiki [Alice Prin] with an African mask) (1926).164 It is, by means of multiple light exposures, saturation gone too deep, confounding the racialised distinctions between ‘white’ model and ‘primitive’ mask, and furthermore rendering Kiki as dangerously seductive as Baumer’s smoking negrophiliac (Fig. 5.2).
Discussing the tensions between ‘racial colour’ and ‘tanned colour’, Sarah Ahmed asserted that, in early twentieth-century tourism literature, ‘The perfectibility of “tanned skin” remains bound up with notions of hygiene. Tanned colour is clean colour and is hence immediately distinguished from the infectability of being-Black’.165 Along with fresh air, clean water, and open spaces, sunlight was promoted by advocates as part of a natural regime for bodily health and social hygiene. Saleeby and his Sunlight League perceived sunlight, and ultraviolet light specifically, as a disinfecting agent with which to rid the masses of ‘diseases of darkness’, notably tuberculosis and rickets. He lobbied for strict smoke abatement laws to reduce the fog and grime hanging over London and other major British industrial cities, seeking to exchange the nation’s dependence upon coal for electricity. Eradicating slums, building lidos, and irradiating children were Saleeby’s aims, in keeping with his belief in positive eugenics.166 Ahmed’s framing of the tan and race in relation to hygiene is therefore apt since, for promoters like Saleeby, ultraviolet light acted not unlike soap as a weapon for racial health. Advertisements for ‘ultraviolet ray soap’ present a fascinating fusion of these two consumable products.167 As Anne McClintock so convincingly argued, the promise of racial regeneration, maintenance, and cleansing through the fetishistic use of soap was part and parcel of the Empire’s civilising mission. Yet in Victorian and Edwardian advertisements of ‘blacks’ turned ‘white’ through its miraculous cleansing action, soap, like ultraviolet light, could be perceived as an agent actively maintaining or disrupting racial difference.168
Sally Dunne Romano asserted that, ‘At the start of the twentieth century, the healthy suntan did not endanger native-born, white skinned Americans’ racial identity because, as opposed to the permanency of race, a suntan was temporary.’169 Anxieties over the ‘infectability’ (to quote Ahmed) of racial transformation through light exposure apparently did not threaten predominant, Darwinist understandings of ‘fixed’ characteristics of race and identity in twentieth-century America. Yet Man Ray’s 1926 photograph of Kiki and the controversial book, The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men, by Major Charles Woodruff of 1905, complicate Dunne Romano’s argument.170 However much some practitioners viewed the tan as ‘merely’ a temporary surface coat, there were others not entirely certain of its latent effects on the body and the psyche. We find them in Britain as well as America, Denmark, France, Germany, and Switzerland. As discussed earlier, the depth and function of the tan were perceived to reach well into the body’s interior by many international practitioners. They were also unclear just how temporary the tan was. Again, explanation resided in the skin of the ‘coloured’ body, Müller writing:
If during summer you have acquired a pretty tanned skin all over, it will almost fade before next season, though not quite. You will keep a light shade of tanning, and when you again start sun-bathing, you will find that now you can stand practically any amount of sunshine without the ill-effects [e.g., erythema] so characteristic for beginners. The cause is that your skin has formed its own means of protection by creating a sort of pigment. We find similar pigments as an inherited gift in most other human races, from the light yellow of the Japanese to the ebony black of the real Negro.171
For Müller, retaining pigment, described here as a process of adaptation more in keeping with Neo-Lamarckian thought, was considered a positive outcome of regular exposure to the natural environment. But he too expressed concern over sunlight’s lasting effects, especially on young, impressionable bodies. Müller’s English version of My Sun-Bathing and Fresh Air System (1927) included warnings about sunbathing being dangerous if overdone. His reason was that ‘the sex life is awakened too soon in children by too much sun-bathing’.172 This is reminiscent of Revillet’s comment, stated above, when he discussed young females induced into early puberty by the Côte d’Azur’s sunlight and felt the need to stress this was not an ‘atavistic’ phenomenon. The tanned body’s perceived descent towards atavism, immorality, and base sexuality correlated with the colour depth (value) of pigmentation: the ‘deeper’ the tan, the greater the possibility of irreversibly crossing racial lines. But even here light therapists, many of them eugenicists, sought out extreme pigmentation for their weakly, white-skinned patients.
Of the many foreign physicians visiting Rollier’s facilities in Leysin, the French Dr Renon commented in 1913 that,
I was extremely impressed to see patients as black as Negroes, with considerable and multiple healed tubercular wounds and with healed white tumours [tumours of chronic tubercular arthritis]; without the photographs of the lesions before the treatment, never would it have been possible to believe that the same disorders existed beforehand.173
For Renon, the confounding of patients’ racial identity through intense heliotherapy was impressive work indeed. The American Dr Otis similarly commented, upon visiting Rollier’s facilities in 1912 that, ‘It was difficult to tell to what race they [the children] belonged, they were so pigmented, the majority being a mahogany or chocolate colour.’174 In Britain, Dane commented in his 1929 popular book that ‘a [naturally] dark Englishman will soon become quite as dark as an Arab and even darker in many cases.’175
As Maren Möhring discussed, in Germany extreme pigmentation was discussed at length by sunbathers ascribing to the Nachtkultur (naked culture) movement. In the process of bronzing one’s skin:
The ideal skin color was a nevertheless a moderate bronze, for the sunbather was warned against excessive tanning that might make his or her body ‘look like a Hottentot’s body’. The dark skin of the ‘Hottentot’ was considered as the embodiment of the ugly and as the effect of layers of dirt. Since skin color was one of the most important racial signifiers in theories of race circulating in the early twentieth century, the shade of one’s tan became a controversial point. Ongoing efforts to define a ‘healthy brown’ or a ‘natural white’ make apparent the ambiguity and permeability of the category of whiteness.176
Here then was that tricky border between looking like an ‘Arab’, ‘Negro’, or ‘Hottentot’ – for the white, sick patient or lay enthusiast an act of emulation through which to regain vigour, health, and sexual function – and becoming one, namely an act of total racial transformation. Bernard attempted to stabilise these fears by arguing that the differences lay within the minute depths of the skin’s physiological make-up: ‘Acquired pigment is extracellular, as opposed to the normal pigment, which is intracellular, as for example the colouring matter of the negro, which must afford constant protection against light.’177 Awash with uncertainty and contradiction, he also stated in the same work that racial colour was not fixed, or even inherited. Rather, it was his view that the ability to ‘manufacture and store pigment in the skin under the influence of light’ was passed on from generation to generation, not the pigment itself.178
Under the seductive pull of negrophilia, others collapsed the distinction between acquired and inherited pigment altogether, speaking of the black body as representative of the healthy, deep tan. In The Times’ ‘Sunlight and Health’ supplement of 1928, for instance, one correspondent stated:
From the earliest times Africa has been for the people of Europe a synonym for sunshine. Everything and everybody African were sunburned till they were black; and by the mere action of the sun life there bred innumerably; a land of mystery and multitudinous strange gods all drawing their own existences from the life-given power of the supreme sun-god himself.179
Such conflations fed back into light-therapy practice, driving some to alter their methods. By the late 1930s, the issue of excessive pigmentation led Dr Charles Brody, the husband of Dr Malvine Brody, to address the matter directly and methodically in his practice. In his massive, internationally authored edited series, Traité d’hélio- et d’actinologie (1938), he included an essay on a new method to depigment his patients. He began by complaining that tanning had become too fashionable among tourists as well as patients in heliotherapeutic sanatoria on the Côte d’Azur, an indirect reference perhaps to the sudden rise in numbers to the region as a result of the newly instigated law that allocated paid holiday leave for workers in 1936, les congés payés. For these tourists, Brody wrote, tanning had become the goal of sun treatment rather than merely a product of it.180 He promoted a new method of his design involving a depigmentation process at certain intervals during heliotherapy treatment so that his patients slowly weaned themselves off of sunshine. The reason, he stated, was that long, uninterrupted sunbathing, with the intention of producing extreme tans, was unnecessary to the healing process and even dangerous:
It can even happen that the appearance of a sudden and intense pigmentation is the element of a severe prognosis and, sometimes even, the prodrome of a fatal, short-term outcome. Such is the case with sufferers of cachexia [general wasting disease]. Here we have noted that after a short exposure, even in an insignificant dose, a sudden and intense pigmentation of chocolate colour appears. Far from being a good omen, here this rapid and dark pigmentation signifies a tissular disintegration of the organism on the path to destruction and is comparable, for us, to a warning sign.181
In fact, he described pigmentation as a skin ‘allergy’, and viewed excessive tanning as the body overdosed and saturated by the sun; he wrote of ‘surpigmentation, surdosage, sursaturation solaire’ necessitating not simply depigmentation but désaccoutumance, the word accoutumance significantly meaning either ‘adaptation’ or ‘addiction’.182 By shortening exposure times and assuring the well-being of his patients, Brody insisted that the advantages would be economic as well as social and moral.183
Already by the 1920s, however, Thedering described a similar method designed to overcome what he termed the ‘dead end’ of light treatment on patients. Intense, continuous exposures produced excessive pigmentation – Thedering’s ‘coat of armour’ – and inhibited further progress. The practitioner could deliberately choose to expose his patients until this plateau was reached, followed by several weeks without treatment for the body to ‘rid itself of the excess pigment’, then start again, creating cycles of ‘dead ends’ and recoveries.184 In Beaumont’s 1931 handbook, he called this the ‘dead point’ method, a particularly fitting phrase that, as I discuss in Chapter 6, aligned excessive light exposure with the dangers of racial degeneration, damage, and death.185
Though Thedering attempted intensely pigmenting, then depigmenting, his patients, he noted that a much preferred method was to give shorter exposures throughout the cure, avoiding pigmentation altogether and ensuring the skin’s receptivity to the light. As discussed in Chapter 2, this was the method advocated by Hill and Eidinow at the MRC-funded NIMR, at least for patients when curatively applied. Yet, when it came to the tan’s preventive merits on the British population at large, Hill simultaneously praised the nudist practices made so well known by Müller and his rival, the German Hans Surén. The latter’s book, Man and Sunlight (Der Mensch und die Sonne of 1924, with a 1927 English translation for which Saleeby wrote the foreword), promoted intense sunbathing as part of the physical-culture movement and was later accepted party propaganda during the Nazi regime (see Fig. 1.1).186
Earlier, it inspired British poet and writer Alfred Noyes’ playful novel, The Return of the Scare-Crow (The Sun Cure; 1929). Noyes’ novel addressed the joys, and ridiculousness, of the cult of nudity through the story of a normally straight-laced pastor who accidentally loses his clothing during a spontaneous sunbathing session along the Sussex coast. As a result he spends several days in hiding to avoid the scandal of being seen while simultaneously revelling in the delights of his new-found freedom, constantly nude in the sunshine. Describing Surén’s book as replete with photographs of Germans so tanned they appeared to be ‘South Sea Islanders’, the novel makes explicit connections between the act of sunbathing and primitivist longings for exotic islands, jungles, and childhood innocence.187 Most of all, Noyes’ protagonist, the reverend Basil Strode, experiences the pleasures and perils of loosening moral standards accompanying the invigorating sun cure.
If tanned skin was, according to Ahmed, historically perceived as ‘clean colour’, we must recognise that the ‘infectability’ of blackness – of degenerative racial ‘contagion’ or transgression – was uncomfortably close on the colour scale, always threatening to bleed. It is perhaps deliberate that Hanovia sought to represent its photogenic, ‘bronzed’ models using gradations of orange rather than brown, signalling the transference of solar energy instead of race (Plates 2–5). Health, happiness, and procreativity sought after by saturating the body with ultraviolet radiation could easily descend into the realm of disease, deviance, and degeneration. The value that Hill attributed to ultraviolet radiation, and its resultant tan, to stimulate the ‘sexual power of citizens’ (see epigraph), was thus at once eugenically desirable and dangerous.188
Practitioners’ perceptions about the ultraviolet rays’ sexually activating powers set it apart from X rays and radium, known by contrast for their sterilising action on the reproductive organs – used to horrific, eugenic effect on so-called ‘degenerative’ groups around the globe.189 But the investment in ultraviolet radiation to produce photogenic bodies, however promising, was never uniformly understood as a ‘positive’ eugenic measure. It is crucial we recognise that, first, the matter was never fully resolved and, second, this ambivalence towards the tan was bound up with sex, race, and national health.
Lastly, to view the tan as ‘only’ an aesthetic is to overlook the power of the visual. It was precisely on the surface that its ‘value’ was, however ambivalently, understood. Even when conceptualised as a surface layer or coating of colour, its meaning was always more than skin-deep. In early twentieth-century Britain and abroad, the tan was perceived as the externalisation of stored solar energy in the body, of vital energy radiant and glowing. Presented in the full glory of saturated colour, the smiling mother and child in the ‘Homesun’ cover delight and disarm us (Plate 3). Yet their curious pigmentation remains unfixed along a slippery colour scale, revealing that seeking a suntan could go either way on the evolutionary ladder.