This book can be described as an 'oblique memoir'. The central underlying and repeated themes of the book are exile and displacement; lives (and deaths) during the Third Reich; mother-daughter and sibling relationships; the generational transmission of trauma and experience; transatlantic reflections; and the struggle for creative expression. Stories mobilised, and people encountered, in the course of the narrative include: the internment of aliens in Britain during the Second World War; cultural life in Rochester, New York, in the 1920s; the social and personal meanings of colour(s). It also includes the industrialist and philanthropist, Henry Simon of Manchester, including his relationship with the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen; the liberal British campaigner and MP of the 1940s, Eleanor Rathbone; reflections on the lives and images of spinsters. The text is supplemented and interrupted throughout by images (photographs, paintings, facsimile documents), some of which serve to illustrate the story, others engaging indirectly with the written word. The book also explains how forced exile persists through generations through a family history. It showcases the differences between English and American cultures. The book focuses on the incidence of cancers caused by exposure to radioactivity in England, and the impact it had on Anglo-American relations.
It must be acknowledged that … our knowledge of the physiological action of light and its effects, whether good or bad, is very limited. In undertaking now the study of one of the properties of the chemical rays, viz., their injurious influence upon the animal organism, I do so, not because I regard this property as the only influence of the chemical rays, but because it constitutes the very foundation of our subject.1
(Niels Finsen, 1894)
Solar energy, received through the ether and transmuted on arrival into various forms, is responsible for all our activities. What the effect of radiation on human bodies may be, we are only beginning to find out. Pigmentation produced in the skin shows that the effect is by no means negligible; and now clinical work on the effect of radiation, both natural and artificial – especially radiation of frequency too high to affect, except prejudicially, the retina of the eye – is leading to results of obviously great interest even to a layman.2
(Oliver Lodge, 1925)
Art Deco sunbeams splay out dynamically behind a deeply tanned, smiling woman (Plate 1). In contrast to their flat graphic pattern, her beautiful and scantily clad body is highlighted by the natural shadows playing across her rounded form. She is positioned in such a way that we look up at her from below, desiring her, desiring to be her: beautiful, vivacious, tanned, happy, fashionable, and healthy.3 Plate 1 is the cover of a c. 1936 pamphlet advertising a home-use lamp, the ‘Vi-tan’ mercury vapour lamp, designed by the British manufacturer, the Thermal Syndicate.4 It is a vanguard montage fusing photographs and graphic illustration in both black-and-white and high-keyed, saturated colour. The advertisement delights our eyes with its complementary colours of orange and blue and its modern mix of serif and sans-serif typefaces.5 But our attention is inevitably drawn back to the model, larger than life and as glamorous and graceful as a dancer on the stage. Placed before the theatrical background of orange and white rays, she twists her body playfully towards (and presumably under) the large orb that is the sun. Yet it is not the sun per se that she worships, but modern technology. A heavily retouched black-and-white photograph of the ‘Vi-tan’ lamp was cut out and stuck within this orb, adding another disjunctive layer of mismatched scales and spatial dislocation. It is the lamp itself that usurps the sun’s primacy as bringer of health and happiness, a sophisticated device to ‘help weather the winter’ by providing artificial summer sunshine.
With its attractive polished oak casing, chromium reflector, and state-of-the-art fused quartz mercury vapour bulb, the ‘Vi-tan’ lamp was an object at once homely and technologically sophisticated (Fig. 4.1). Supplied with the lamp were brown-tinted, leather goggles (Fig. 4.2), a requisite piece of apparel for exposure to a bulb that the manufacturer declared emitted a whopping (and, frankly, highly unlikely) 99 per cent of invisible ultraviolet light. According to contemporaneous textbooks, standard mercury vapour lamps emitted approximately 28 per cent.6 If genuine, the Vi-tan’s immense output had the capacity to severely burn and blind its users.
Oak, chromium plating, and quartz glass. Author’s collection.
Brown-tinted glass, leather, and elastic. Author’s collection.
Yet looking at the object, we do not get a sense that it is a dangerous device. Any potential dangers of ultraviolet light or electricity appear safely contained in its rich, polished wooden casing.7 Its promotional advertising, as evident in Plate 1, only further emphasised its polish, its sophistication, as an object not simply of vitalising health but glamorous beauty.
Reputable medical men and quacks alike promoted home-use lamps for public use as the ideal preventive means to health in the absence of natural sunlight. Other medical practitioners, however, urged caution towards these devices, both in the interests of public safety and light therapy’s reputation. While continuing to discuss light therapy’s appeal and legitimisation, this chapter shifts focus from the previous chapters, moving from the hospital and clinic to the home. It explores the ambivalent reception of home-use lamps when they emerged on the market during the 1920s and 1930s, as objects simultaneously of benefit and risk. Just as they could animate life and bring vitality, so could they cause suffering and even death: life-threatening burns, electrocution, and miscarriage were all reported in popular and medical literature. The history of home-use lamps bears important relation to that of ‘domesticating’ electricity; both were a haphazard business. As Graeme Gooday showed, domestic lighting occupied a precarious position in public and private life, somewhere between electro-therapeutic apparatus, which professed to restore life, and the electric chair, which ended it. Tales of electricity ‘out of control’, causing injury and death, versus those of it marvellously ‘tamed’ within fashionable upper-class homes, present two very different public perspectives of this natural force in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain.8
Like electricity, artificially produced ultraviolet radiation required ‘domestication’. To be consumed en masse it needed to be harnessed, controlled, and ‘tamed’ within the home. With their emanating penetrative radiation and electrical wiring, home-use lamps were potentially volatile devices that could burn and shock users. To be effectively advertised, these new devices required a new aesthetic, one that could represent their invisible, vitalising energies and convey their bodily effects in an arresting, compelling way. This new look did not materialise from the ether, to cite famous physicist and spiritualist Sir Oliver Lodge (1851–1940; see epigraph). It emerged as an adaptation of vanguard techniques of montage – a composite of multiple layers – and must be contextualised alongside contemporaneous advertisements and perceptions of other kinds of therapeutic radiation, notably X rays and radium. This chapter focuses on visual and therapeutic multiple exposures, on the allied and complicated histories of radiation therapies and their public consumption. As the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover demonstrates, vanguard visual tactics were in place to advertise these risky, invisible rays, tactics that productively conflated and confounded their powers for a hungry set of consumers.
The epigraphs by Finsen and Lodge evince that ultraviolet radiation’s ‘injurious’, transformative, and mysterious powers continued to seduce and perplex the medical, scientific, and public imagination for decades.9 Lodge, once president of the Society for Psychical Research, described ultraviolet light as a mysterious and powerful form of radiation, of interest both to the scientist and the layman. Yet, thirty years on, he provided little more clarity about its bodily effects than did Finsen. Like the ambivalence the medical community expressed towards the relative merits or risks of producing solar erythema (‘sunburn’), the confusion over ‘fixing’ dosages (Chapter 2), and the uneasy role of photography in light therapy’s development (Chapter 3), the emergence and representation of home-use lamps are fraught with inconsistencies, confusion, and tension – at once beneficial medical devices and dangerous popular toys. In keeping with the general aim of this book, I want to explore these instead of smoothing out their rough edges.
In the previous chapters, black-and-white photography featured heavily as a light technology and a medium of representation. Much of the discussion focused on photography’s ambivalent relationship with light therapy and, most of all, on its limitations to register, disseminate, and legitimise the therapy as modern medicine. I ended Chapter 3 by mentioning how often light therapy’s photographs were retouched, or faked outright, to avoid the hazards and difficulties of capturing the therapy in process. Manual intervention, whether by retouching, assembling composites, or mixing illustration with photograph, is absolutely ubiquitous in its imagery, though obviously not unique to it.10 We encounter this intervention so frequently – in illustrated newspapers, advertisements, popular treatises, medical handbooks, and institutional archives – that it epitomises light therapy’s visual culture.11 This intervention is exemplified by an image in a promotional booklet for the Peebles Hydropathic Hotel (Hawick), which offered light therapy to its clientele (Fig. 4.3). Note the ‘corrections’ of overdrawn contours that have been irradiated and eradicated by the light’s excesses, the non-naturalistic visualisation of invisible light by bold blocks of negative space and graphic lines, and the vanguard layering of illustration and photograph. So overworked is the operator that she emerges as machine-like as the equipment surrounding her. Her clumsily overdrawn features, clothing, and goggles move the representation into the realm of fantasy or science fiction. In spite of – indeed because of – its extent and clumsiness, the over-working betrays a particular anxiety, if not outright desperation, to represent light therapy as a legitimate and modern form of medicine. Such interventions are typical, rivalled only by the damaged, overexposed prints they attempt to address (see Chapter 3). Like Figure 4.3, the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover (Plate 1) is also a montage and employs the same kinds of intervention, including layering, mixed media, graphic lines, bold blocks of negative space, and the resultant flattening of space. Yet, like Edith Tudor-Hart’s negative of phototherapy at the SLHWC (Fig. 3.1), the image is atypical precisely because it is so sophisticated. With the ‘Vi-tan’ and its vanguard advertisement in mind, in this chapter I examine the aesthetic strategies used to domesticate and sell risky rays (Section I), and why, unlike the incandescent light bulb, the home-use lamp never became a tame affaire (Section II).
In The Peebles Hotel Hydropathic: For Health and Pleasure, undated booklet (c. 1920–30s), p. 40. Scottish Borders Council Archives, Hawick.
The relationship between ultraviolet, X, and gamma radiation went beyond their cosy position together on the electromagnetic spectrum. Focusing on the contemporaneous, American public reception of X rays and radium, Matthew Lavine argued that, ‘The new rays were, in short, the icons of a new and modern science in all its chaotic, fantastic, and ambiguously beneficial glory.’12 Ultraviolet radiation’s place in histories of X rays and radium is consistently dismissed by scholars, Lavine included, and yet it was explicitly understood at the time as a form of radiation therapy and was avidly used alongside them.13 Finsen himself experimented with X rays and radium alongside ultraviolet rays at his institute shortly before his death and was cited by his successor, Axel Reyn, as advancing the entire field of radiotherapy.14 This is an integral part of light therapy’s history that has only begun to be acknowledged, one connecting the tanning lamp to the atom bomb.15
While the existence of ultraviolet rays was known to scientists since 1801, their therapeutic application during the 1890s made them freshly popular and relevant to physicians, physicists, and the public. In the mid-1890s, as Finsen was adapting carbon arc lamps into therapeutic devices, Wilhelm Röntgen announced his discovery of X rays and Henri Becquerel, Pierre and Marie Curie their research on radioactivity and radium (emitting alpha, beta, and gamma rays). It was an unparalleled moment in physics research, and by 1903 these researchers were honoured with the first batch of Nobel Prizes: Röntgen won the first Prize in Physics in 1901; Becquerel and the Curies shared the Prize in Physics in 1903, the same year that Finsen won the Prize in Medicine.16 The mania for these rays, among physicians, scientists, photographers, and the public, created an ‘actinic fever’ that was only further fuelled by the prizes.17 This fever went beyond their entertainment value, as objects of visual spectacle. Citizens sought physical interactions with these rays and their mysterious energies.
Röntgen’s and Becquerel’s discoveries were enabled by the medium of photography. Both were described as revelatory accidents during experiments with a Crookes tube, in Röntgen’s case, and a crystal containing uranium, in Becquerel’s case, when invisible wavelengths were unexpectedly registered onto photosensitive surfaces (Figs. 4.4–4.5). Kelley Wilder explained that X-ray photography (radiography) produced a mutually reinforcing relationship between photography and science. Radiation’s discovery via photography lent considerable scientific authority to the medium at a time when photography’s supposedly objective and infallible character was being seriously questioned amidst growing awareness of its malleability, especially in relation to debates over retouching and the tricks common in capturing ‘spirits’. In turn, by giving visual form to these heretofore unknown, invisible rays, photography helped to establish new scientific fields on radioactivity and, later, atomic physics.18
Wellcome Library, London CC BY-NC 4.0.
In Henri Becquerel, Recherches sur une propriété nouvelle de la matière (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1903), Plate 1, No. 2. Wellcome Library, London CC BY-NC 4.0.
Röntgen confirmed the existence and uniqueness of X rays by their difference to ultraviolet rays. Becquerel’s experiments were likewise conducted with ultraviolet and Röntgen’s rays in mind. His rays were understood in relation to, and distinguished from, the properties of these other rays.19 Finsen also employed photography in his experiments with ultraviolet light, as both a method of recording and a guide in its technology and processes (Chapters 2 and 3). Early on, Finsen’s use of ultraviolet light to treat lupus vulgaris found purpose and understanding through comparison with X rays. Many doctors considered their bodily effects to be analogous.20 Dr Hugh Walsham, assistant medical officer of St Bartholomew’s electrical department, stated in 1902 that,
Many observers appear to regard the treatment by x rays and by light as something quite different. When we consider, however, in how many ways ultra-violet light and x rays are alike the distinction between the two almost vanishes. Both act chemically, both produce fluorescence in bodies, both discharge the gold-leaf electroscope. The action on the skin is, however, somewhat different, although they are both capable of producing dermatitis and pigmentation.21
The characteristic sign of ultraviolet light’s action on the skin, in the form of a solar erythema, could be similarly produced by X and gamma rays. For physicians, the differences lay in the severity of burns and in the latency periods. However, they argued that the way in which each patient reacted to all these rays came down to personal idiosyncrasy. Until the 1930s, the dosages for ultraviolet rays, X rays, and radium were all gauged by their burning action on the individual patient’s skin.22
Used, like ultraviolet light, both to cauterise lesions by their burning action and to stimulate with shorter doses, X rays found widespread application in clinical medicine. In this they were joined by radium’s rays, and all of these were used to treat lupus vulgaris and a host of other skin conditions.23 These rays were also used to treat forms of cancer and tuberculosis, particularly during their earliest, highly experimental years of application.24 And while they were understood, almost immediately, to be destructive in their actions, they were also described as stimulating. It depended on the intensity, duration, and method of application. Radium was known to destroy internal cancerous tumours yet was also used to increase fertility: radium fertiliser, for example, was one of its many public applications.25 They gained even more medical prominence during the First World War, when radium, X rays, and ultraviolet rays found widespread application in treating wounds and scars, and detecting and healing fractures.26
Anne Jamieson discovered that the X-ray machine’s entry into British hospitals coincided with, or in some cases was attributed to, the entry of the Finsen light for therapeutic over diagnostic applications.27 She described their early shared history as evidence of a ‘growing symbiotic relationship’ between X rays (X-ray machines) and ultraviolet rays (notably the Finsen lamp). In this chapter I want to pay equal attention to instances in which this relationship, complicated by the addition of radium, was fraught with tension. Clashing perceptions of their effects made them at once allies and enemies, and this complex union continued well into the 1930s.
From an aesthetic viewpoint, however, the similarities of representation are undeniable. Radiation, whether rays of infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X, or gamma rays, has a long visual history. During the 1800s, photography contributed to and solidified certain visual tropes for representing light wavelengths. By the 1890s, when photography was employed to register and disseminate the discoveries of Röntgen, Becquerel, and the Curies, it crucially made tangible, in Wilder’s words, ‘previously unseen parts of the spectrum as fixed, visible entities’.28 As we learned in Chapter 2, this ‘fixing’ occurred as a photochemical process on the emulsion (the fixing of the photograph) that was then used to measure, analyse, and standardise light exposures (the fixing of dosages). But as Wilder noted, by fixing these invisible rays onto the photographic surface, they were also given material form. This is particularly relevant considering practitioners described the very experience of receiving light treatment as an invisible process, warning that ‘little or nothing will be felt during the actual treatment’, much like receiving X rays or radium.29
Representing the rays
In the last chapter I focused on images that were imprinted by excessive actinic light and consequently damaged by marks of overexposure, and argued that these ‘artefacts’ were particularly poignant examples of the difficulties of undertaking and controlling light treatment. One method of recording the therapy in process was to set up the patients, operators, and equipment as though in the act of treatment but leave the lamps off to avoid overexposing the film (Fig. 3.17). In advertisements this tactic occurred frequently, with the image later undergoing heavy retouching and manipulation to appear as though the lamp was on and functioning. To do so was both practical and creative.
In Figure 4.6, a 1937 advertisement by Hanovia for a popular clinical mercury vapour lamp, the Alpine Sun Lamp, the lower left-hand image fused photograph with hand-drawn and graphic illustration. It appeared in the medical journal, the British Journal of Physical Medicine, whose editorial board included some of light therapy’s most famous and celebrated international practitioners: Sir Henry Gauvain (Treloar Hospital), Sir Leonard Hill (NIMR), Dr Kurt Huldschinsky (Berlin), Dr Auguste Rollier (Leysin), and Dr Jean Saidman (Aix-les-Bains), among many others. The advertisement was geared therefore to a knowledgeable professional audience and specifically addressed treating wounds and burns with a combination of ultraviolet and infrared light.30 A photograph of a male patient, lying face down on a hospital bed – his eyes thus conveniently shielded from the emanating actinic light – was cut out and placed onto a black background. A second cut-out of a dual-headed version of the lamp, combining the mercury vapour lamp at the top and an infrared lamp lower down, overlapped the first cut-out and was retouched by hand to emphasise its clean edges and reflective metal surfaces. Note, for example, the added shading to the infrared lamp’s focusing head, which appears as swipes of a grey watercolour wash. But most noticeable are the added blocks of white negative space that project, ruler-edged, from the two lamps, signifying overlapping beams of invisible ultraviolet and infrared light. They were subtly shaded as well with graduated grey tones, especially around the patient, to mark out the second beam from the infrared lamp and distinguish their different emanations. It is an image that intriguingly maximises certain photographic techniques – retouching, piecing together multiple photographs, and integrating illustration with photograph – in order to correct the limitations of the photographic process due to actinic light’s volatility.
In British Journal of Physical Medicine, April 1937, p. vi. MSS.292/ 847.92/4 TUC papers, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick.
Many other similar representations exist during this period, for both home-use and clinical lamps (Fig. 4.7).31 The decision to visualise these invisible emanations in this particular way, as blocks of white negative space, was an extension of their more common representation as graphic lines, shafts, and crepuscular rays (known also as ‘God rays’, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, and sunbursts). With their sharply delineated contours and consistently dominant compositional placement, the white blocks materialise something that, by its very nature, is invisible and immaterial.32 As Shelford Bidwell pointed out to his audience during his popular lectures on light and colour,
‘Radiation’ … – meaning ether wave-energy – includes what is often improperly called light. Light, people say, takes about eight minutes in travelling from the sun to the earth. But while it is on its journey it is not light in the true sense of the word; neither does anything of the nature of light ever start from the sun. Light has no more existence in nature outside a living body than the flavour of onions has; both are merely sensations.33
Given solid, material form, light has substance in these images. It appears tangible and real. Analysing the chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey, Josh Ellenbogen perceptively asked, ‘what makes for a useful convention when one visualizes the non-visible?’34 For ultraviolet rays the obvious reference point was ‘visible’ light, the red to violet rays that can be seen by the human retina.
Crepuscular rays, emanating boldly from the sun through cloud cover, were the most common representation, and they had an ancient lineage to symbolise the sun, God, and spiritual energies. Light therapists were certainly aware of such representations. In the opening, historical review of heliotherapy in the massive two-volume, internationally authored Traité d’hélio- et d’actinologie (1937), the Swiss heliotherapist Oskar Bernhard included a reproduction of the ancient Egyptian relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their children under the sun’s emanating, life-giving rays (Fig. 4.8).35 Spiritual rays and halos of divine light encircling the bodies of saints, martyrs, and the Holy Trinity transformed this ancient tradition into standard Christian iconography.36 The ‘Alpine Sun lamp’ advertisement (Fig. 4.6), like the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover (Plate 1), visualises the invisible ultraviolet rays by modernising an ancient iconography. Its hard-edged crepuscular rays appear like theatre spotlights on the stage. The aesthetic choice is doubly ironic: visible rays, on which the depictions are based, were considered relatively useless from a therapeutic interest; and stage spotlights could be incandescent lamps but could also be carbon arc lamps.37 As we learned in the last chapter, this was neither the first nor the last time that light for vision would prove incompatible with light for healing.
4.8 Ancient Egyptian relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children under the life-giving sun, Tell el-Amarna, relief carving, c. 1375 bce.
In Oskar Bernhard, ‘L’Évolution historique du traitement solaire’, in Charles Brody (ed.), Traité d’hélio- et d’actinologie (Paris: Maloine, 1938), vol. I, Figure 1, p. 7. Author’s collection.
Emanating shafts, beams, and ‘pencils’ of light depicted as white or black graphic lines were also standard representations for electricity’s powers. In number they were exceeded only by lightning bolts, as Carolyn Thomas de la Peña showed.38 Importantly, both beams and bolts were also used to illustrate the powers of X rays and radium, in Britain and abroad (Fig. 4.9). Analysing an American advertisement for the ‘Revigator’ radium jar, a product impregnating water with ‘healthful’ radioactivity, she described the confusing addition of lightning bolts to the streaming irradiated water emerging from the jar, and that, ‘The bolts, however [inaccurate], are indicative of the importance of a scientific image to these jars’ success. Radium’s invisibility necessitated creativity: manufacturers borrowed electricity’s cultural cachet, assuming that readers would make the connection.’39 Indeed, surely they forged this connection between the powers of electricity and radium for their target audience through such visual representations. Like the sun, radium’s most powerful appeal to the public was its radiant luminosity. In fact its apparent self-generating, luminescent glow, as well as its limitless energy, made its analogy with the sun seem natural. This continued well into the 1940s with the invention of the atom bomb.40
4.9 After J. M. Price, ‘Marie and Pierre Curie, he holding aloft a glowing specimen of radium’, 1904.
Colour lithograph. Wellcome Library, London CC BY-NC 4.0.
Portable, compact, and with a door that cleverly conceals its function, the ‘Vi-tan’ was designed for the modern, elegant, affluent British home. Its price tag of £12, in 1936, equates to about £760 in 2016.41 Its cost, as well as the necessity of accessible electrical sockets of the right amperage within the home – during a period when domestic electricity was still out of reach for many – indicates that the ‘Vi-tan’ was not a staple electrical appliance within the average British household.42 Yet the Thermal Syndicate’s advertising material clearly intended it to appeal to a broad and varied audience. Indeed, in his book Objects of Desire, Adrian Forty argued that during the 1930s new domestic electrical appliances actually drove, rather than followed, Britain’s market of electricity consumption, leading to the widespread wiring of homes.43 Advertisements for the ‘Vi-tan’ were placed in local newspapers and even in naturist journals, notably the Sun Bathing Review (Fig. 4.10).44 Equally glamorous with her contemporary curls and decorative boudoir, the model in Figure 4.10 is stripped to the waist and contentedly faces the ‘Vi-tan’ while its emanating shafts of light reach out towards her.
In Sun Bathing Review, 4:17 (1937), 180. Hawk Editorial, publisher of H&E Naturist magazine, www.henaturist.net.
The foldable, illustrated colour pamphlet of c. 1936 promoted the ‘Vi-tan’ as an essential device of preventive medicine for all workers in industrial areas and those in indoor, sedentary occupations, including a photograph of clerks in an office (Plate 1). This strategic appeal to the working masses by the manufacturer was certainly not unique to the ‘Vi-tan’. The most well-known manufacturer, Hanovia, similarly marketed its ‘Homesun’ mercury vapour lamp (Fig. 4.11) to the ordinary British worker, stuck indoors in the daily grind or commuting under near-constant cloud cover, and consequently suffering from ‘sun starvation’ (see Chapter 5). Its equivalent price of £18 in 1940 would be over £1,000 in 2016.45 It was almost twice the size of the ‘Vi-tan’, and yet its promotional literature also stressed its design aesthetic as ideal for the home. Its user pamphlet declared, ‘The sleek, clean design, enhanced by the beautiful finish in cream ivory, with mahogany Bakelite fittings, is an adornment in any surroundings.’46 Modernity in this case was expressed through hygienic light colours, minimalist contours, and new synthetic materials.47
Metal, Bakelite, chrome, and quartz glass. Author’s collection.
Unlike Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’, the Thermal Syndicate’s ‘Vi-tan’ is curiously composed of both natural and modern materials, an oak shell containing the shiny, chromium-plated reflector and the company’s celebrated fused silica (quartz) glass bulb. Simon Carter argued that ‘the sunlamp was at the same time both “of nature” and “of science”’, while Daniel Freund similarly asserted that home-use lamps were ‘modern versions of nature, blurring boundaries between synthetic and real [sunlight]’.48 The same has been said of other purportedly ‘natural’ products that rely heavily upon modern technologies and human intervention, not least cow’s milk.49 Together, the ‘Vi-tan’ lamp’s fusion of components makes materially manifest these arguments, conforming to Freund’s notion of the ‘hypernatural’ – of science exceeding and perfecting nature.50 Certainly this was the view of the Thermal Syndicate, who confidently declared their lamp’s superiority to natural sunlight in its advertising pamphlet by stating that its bulb was ‘more effective even than … the sun’, since sunlight was impeded by the atmosphere.51 It was also available on demand, a particular bonus for a nation notorious for its poor weather (see Chapter 1). As Dr William Beaumont put it in 1931, ‘artificial sunlight treatment is really an attempt to wrest from science what nature designed us to have’.52
If in its design and its function the ‘Vi-tan’ is an object of synthetic nature, its visual representation through advertising further collapses distinctions between the natural and the artificial, between reality and artifice, between the visible and the invisible. In the cover montage (Plate 1), colour mixes with black-and-white, and photographs with graphic and hand-drawn illustration. Proportions are skewed, flattened shapes overlap as obvious cut-outs, and any sense of naturalistic space is limited to the shadows on the figure’s form.53 The small lamp takes its place within the sun while its serpentine electrical cord, disconnected from its source, is wrapped around the model’s body like a fashionable feather boa. Unplugged and detached, the lamp is useless, impotent, while its cord is turned into feminine adornment, and yet the sun’s dynamic, crepuscular rays shine on. If the lamp was meant to emit 99 per cent ultraviolet light – wavelengths commonly known to be invisible to the human retina – its vitalising rays nonetheless dominate the composition, given prominent visual form with near-fluorescent complimentary colours as bold blocks separated by graphic lines. These are Art Deco sunbeams, a design commonly found in contemporaneous popular and vanguard graphic representations on travel posters, textiles, doors, jewellery, and tableware.54 The pamphlet indicated that little visible light was actually emitted by the lamp, and yet they are presented here in a dramatic representation that confounds visible and invisible rays as well as natural and artificial sources.
Phototherapy lamps emitted highly varied light wavelengths, in particular infrared, visible, and ultraviolet, and in diverse proportions as evidenced by the proclaimed output of the ‘Vi-tan’. This varied light could be produced by mercury vapour bulbs as well as by rods of carbon or tungsten, in the case of carbon arc or tungsten arc lamps. They also came in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes. In the 1920s large, standing models could be sold for home and clinical use, evidenced by the Ajax advertisement in Chapter 1 (Fig. 1.4), but towards the end of the decade and early 1930s smaller, compact units began to be marketed for home use. These were used by members of the public as well as house-bound patients, who were visited by nurses with these devices. Taken together, the sheer variety of models, manufacturers, lamp types, outputs, required voltages, prices, and competing views from the medical profession about unregulated, unsupervised home use is, quite simply, astounding. This erratic cacophony of information encountered in the popular and medical texts is only further confounded through visual representations, exemplified by the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover (Plate 1).
As stated in Chapter 1, noted physicist Sidney Russ spoke of natural sunlight as a beneficent and benign nourisher of children, yet he remained sceptical of artificial substitutes:
Sources of ultra-violet radiation can now be obtained very easily, perhaps too easily, from those who represent that they have ‘artificial sunlight’ for sale. It is a bad term, for the radiation from none of these lamps resembles sunlight very closely, and they all contain some ultra-violet rays which normally never reach us [from the sun]. So it cannot be recognized too clearly that anyone using such lamps is using a source of rays with which man is yet quite unfamiliar, and how the body is going to react to repeated doses of these rays is not yet really known.55
By replicating nature with scientific technology, lamp manufacturers harnessed a powerful source that, for some, bordered on magic. Although there were home-use lamps advertised throughout the volumes of the Sunlight League’s journal (Fig. 4.16), Sunlight’s editor Caleb Saleeby wrote in a 1929 issue that,
The boom in artificial sunlight was inevitable, not only because ultra-violet radiation, rightly used, has real value – as in making Vitamin D in the skin – and because our urban shortage of natural ultra-violet, real sunlight, will persist until we abolish our urban smoke; but also because of our stupid preference for anything novel, unnatural, semi-magical.56
His choice of the word ‘stupid’ is curious; etymologically meaning ‘stunned’, ‘amazed’ or ‘confounded’, the word is surprisingly appropriate considering the man himself proudly owned a Hanovia ‘Homesun’ lamp.57 Perhaps this was the lamp’s ‘magical’ pull. After all, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, to quote Arthur C. Clarke.58
Or was it the magic of advertising? In its spatial distortions, mismatched scales of objects, and layering of photograph and graphic illustration, the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover is decidedly non-naturalistic. We have no sense that this is a real person, in a real space under a real sun. We cannot imagine stepping into the picture and joining her there, however much we may wish it. Instead, the image is illusionistic of a different promised reality, one that, however fantastical, did not seem out of reach to the modern British citizen. As Charles Bazerman explained, ‘Purveyors of new technologies must … entice risk-taking customers to buy into the dream so as to make the dream real.’59 They did so through advertising, a ‘magic system’ that performs ‘feats of transformation and bewitchment’, as Raymond Williams and Sut Jhally both argued.60 Ernest Turner noted that the depression only compelled advertisers in the 1930s to produce more aggressive, fear-driven campaigns at a time of desperate competition.61 Though there were instances of rogue manufacturers who deliberately and duplicitously hoodwinked the public with false product information, the majority of lamp manufacturers certainly did not have nefarious intentions. Hanovia, for example, was a highly respected company that supplied lamps to the medical profession, to schools, factories and light clinics, and to the public. But, as is clear from Russ’s statement above, even the names of some of these lamps – notably Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’ (Fig. 4.11) and the ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’ (Fig. 4.6) – were enough to create obfuscation, from which manufacturers profited. That these lamps were sold both to the public (the ‘Homesun’) and to practitioners (the ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’) indicates consumers were not unanimously naive or gullible.62 In 1929, Dr Maurice Weinbren stated, ‘Manufacturers were not slow to see the profitable advantages of mass production of apparatus, some of which is useless from the therapeutic point of view and definitely dangerous from its electrical design. The result is that one is now offered “treatment” by many a barber and apparatus by many an ironmonger.’63 Russ’s and Weinbren’s concern may have been with public access and misuse, but instability existed among professional use and beliefs too. The lamps and their advertisements did more than reflect or follow already clear-cut, embedded medical perceptions of light’s effects on the body: they actively shaped, mobilised, and confounded them, and they did so to a wide audience.
In Naked to the Bone, Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles described the technology of radiography as eradicating the skin’s surface and rendering it ‘transparent’ – a common reference to the penetrative power of the X ray, with the radiograph presenting the organs and tissues as a ‘mist of overlapping layers’.64 Sophia Zweifel, citing the writings of French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu, theorised that the radiograph can be understood as a composite of layered ‘pellicules’, meaning both photographic film and membranes, or ‘skins’ (see Chapter 3).65 Lisa Cartwright, discussing microscopy, similarly singled out the microscopic specimen as a ‘series of light-penetrated sheets’ analogous to Clement Greenberg’s description of the flat, skin-like surfaces of Cubist paintings.66 The reference to avant-garde painting is particularly apt, especially the dynamic layered surfaces in the paintings of Marcel Duchamp, František Kupka, and Francis Picabia. These artists were enamoured with radiography’s visual aesthetic, especially its ‘cuttings’ (layered sections of the body), and popular conceptions of Theosophy and the Fourth Dimension, as discussed at length by Linda Dalrymple Henderson.67 Henderson explained that these artists, informed by popular science, sought to visualise the imperceptible, an invisible reality beyond surface appearances that challenged the ‘inadequacy of human sense perception’.68 In their oil paintings they prominently represented the body as a series of ‘dematerialised’ translucent layers, such as in Kupka’s Planes by Colours (1911–12, Musée National d’Art Moderne) and Duchamp’s Portrait (Dulcinea) (1911, Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Like Kupka’s and Duchamp’s vanguard paintings, photomontage emerged during the late 1910s and 1920s as a sophisticated and modern representation for sophisticated, modern medical and scientific concepts, exemplified by the art, design, and photography of the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy and the Russian El Lissitzky (Figs. 4.12–4.13). In the catalogue for the exhibition, Montage and Modern Life: 1919–1942 (Boston, Vancouver and Brussels, 1992–93), Matthew Teitelbaum described montage as offering a ‘kaleidoscopic expanded vision’, not merely representing the real but an idea of the real as ‘something not yet seen’.69 Above all, montage was attributed to a ‘specifically modernist practice of seeing and experiencing’, as Maud Lavin made clear.70 Lavin’s examples of montaged advertisements for products such as shampoo similarly feature ‘artistic’, hand-drawn illustration layered with photographs and crisp cut-outs of modern products.71
Photomontage, pencil, Perspex, and silver foil. Private collection. © Hattula Moholy-Nagy/DACS 2016 and Bridgeman Images.
Silver gelatin print photograph (photomontage). Private collection. © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images.
Dawn Ades pointed out that art historians and the artists themselves have disagreed, and continue to disagree, on a uniform definition for ‘(photo)montage’, and its definition varies from dictionary to dictionary.72 Ades also firmly connected it with modernity and modern technology, writing of montage as a product of ‘the technological world, the world of mass communication and photo-mechanical reproduction’.73 Though vanguard montages vary enormously in style, they were commonly produced by the overlaying (‘assembling’ or constructing) of opaque or translucent layers (Figs. 4.12–4.13). It is fitting that many of them resemble the ‘mist of overlapping layers’ and light-penetrated ‘skins’ of X-ray graphs (Fig. 4.4), then, since radiography was a firm influence on montage’s development as a new form of representation.74
Perhaps unsurprisingly, montage was relied upon heavily to represent invisible radiation in popular advertising; their aesthetics were mutually reinforcing if not interdependent. From the 1920s onwards, montage was widely used in advertising, often produced by commissioned avant-garde artists, and it promoted products with its unique aesthetic in ‘strange’, ‘marvellous’, and ‘magic’ ways.75 In advertisements selling invisible energies, montage thus found its ideal place. Revisiting the advertisements for the ‘Vi-tan’ and the ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’ (Plate 1, Fig. 4.6), their modernist assembling of multiple, overlapping layers of mixed media, spatial distortions, and dynamic compositions align them with the production of vanguard artists such as Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky. Tudor-Hart offers an intriguing connection to these varied images and their makers. Although photomontage held only a minor interest in Tudor-Hart’s oeuvre, her training at the Bauhaus, likely under the tutelage of Moholy-Nagy, and her continuing affiliation with him and his wife, Lucia, while in Britain in the mid-1930s exemplify the ongoing ties between developments in light therapy and photography.76 Curiously, Moholy-Nagy’s work was also disseminated in Britain through a journal called Ray, ‘the only English periodical of the avant-garde’.77
The vanguard light aesthetics of Moholy-Nagy, applied to diverse interests in photography, montage, sculpture, and film, were central to what he termed ‘the New Vision’.78 While teaching at the Bauhaus, under the guidance of Walter Gropius and an ‘intoxication with all things technological’, Moholy-Nagy introduced into the metal workshop modern industrial materials such as chrome, aluminium, nickel, and glass – materials essential to the construction of light-therapy lamps.79 Eleanor Hight wrote that, ‘For many artists of the 1920s, the machine provided the basis for a new universal art’, both negatively and positively represented.80 Both Gropius and Moholy-Nagy considered the machine a tool for social progress, improving the lives of citizens by means of mass production.81 Moholy-Nagy collaborated with Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), one of Germany’s largest industrial companies and, in partnership with Heraeus, founder the Quarzlampen-Gesellschaft mbH in 1906. Together, and until 1973, they designed the Art Deco ‘Original Hanau’ mercury vapour lamp, one of the most well-known lamps on the market, as well as the ‘Sollux’ (an infrared lamp that additionally incorporated colour filters for chromotherapy). AEG’s design consultant, Peter Behrens (1868–1940), began there in 1907 by designing arc lamps. Later, while still consulting for AEG, he ran a private architectural practice that at one time employed Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe.82 Moholy-Nagy constructed his own vanguard light devices, including his most important project: The Light-Space Modulator (1930), a ‘kinetic sculpture’ built on AEG’s premises.83
During this same period, the Moholy-Nagys were simultaneously indulging in naturism as part of their interest in physical culture, just as Tudor-Hart began taking a serious interest in sunbathing as a photographic subject (see the next chapter on her photographs in Sun Bathing Review).84 Christopher Wilk made an intriguing connection between the interwar obsession with bodily health and its vanguard art:
The idea of perfecting and altering the body perhaps found its visual equivalent in the form of the photomontage and the image manipulated in the darkroom. Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer, among others, created photographic prints in which bodies were depicted with parts missing or added, where transparency was much emphasized or where there was a reversal of traditional poles of light and dark that heightened awareness of the subject [solarisation]. These depictions of the human form, and the unusual viewpoints from which they were presented in New Photography, represented strategies for avoiding traditional modes of depiction, suggesting a new view of the body.85
We might also include that it was a new view of the technologies designed to produce and perfect the body – of synthetic nature. The ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover (Plate 1) remakes the body, perfects it, through its ‘magical’ product (the lamp) as well through its ‘magical’ aesthetics (montage).
For Moholy-Nagy, Hight declared, ‘Light became the most important element of his work, whether in painting, sculpture, or photography, from this point  to the end of his career.’86 Like Kupka and Duchamp, he was influenced by popularised scientific theories of light, such as Max Planck’s quantum theory and Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, as well as spiritualist understandings of light as regenerative, accessed at the Bauhaus through the writings of Wassily Kandinsky and Expressionist art.87 Aside from his sculptures he became famous for his photographs of light, especially his photograms (cameraless photographs). Moholy-Nagy’s experiments with photograms began in collaboration with his wife in 1922. Like Man Ray and Christian Schad, they experimented with the photosensitive register, placing diverse objects of varying opacities onto the paper and passing various fluids and materials between paper and light source, reminiscent of Finsen’s and Hill’s photographed experiments with skin and actinic light (Figs. 2.1, 2.3).88 Although in his photograms Moholy-Nagy gave actinic light a material form and treated it as a medium, he described light as ‘dematerialising’ and photography as ‘the penetration of the body with light’.89 These complex, even perplexing, notions of actinic light’s penetrability and its relative materiality – its transparency, translucency, or opacity – find not only significant visual expression in the diversity of his artwork but also important analogies with competing understandings among light therapists over light’s penetrability through the skin and into the body.
Kevles stated that X rays revolutionised medicine by rendering the body transparent. This fantasy of transparency, by using penetrative electromagnetic wavelengths to reveal the body’s depths, has fuelled medical imaging ever since.90 The desire to access the body’s interior, reveal its secrets, render it ‘transparent’ to the eye, and flood it with light, however, predates the discovery of X rays and their diagnostic imaging potential. The practice of transillumination, of penetrating the body’s orifices with light by means of mirrors and lenses, and the inventions of endoscopy, laryngoscopy, and cystoscopy are significant nineteenth-century precedents for radiography.91 For Chris Otter, ‘The visceral folds and surfaces of bodily organs were revealed to the surgical eye’ by means of the cystoscope.92
Just as X rays and radium both visualised the body’s interior, by producing photographic imprints, and physically altered it while doing so, these earlier means of penetration were simultaneously metaphorical and literal: a penetrative vision by means of physically entering inside the body and illuminating it with light from within.93 During the 1896 frenzy over X rays, a correspondent in the Lancet pointed out that the celebrated physician and sanitarian, Sir Benjamin Richardson, had demonstrated as early as 1868 that the body could be illuminated by passing light into and around it with various artificial sources, including electric light, gaslight, limelight, and magnesium light. Richardson displayed his method by illuminating the bones of a child’s hand as well as the interiors of fish and other animals, and as a result considered the body ‘translucent’.94
Moholy-Nagy’s declaration that photography itself ‘penetrated’ the body with light (rather than operated by capturing the light reflecting off the body’s surface) finds an early ally in an 1875 statement by photographer and photochemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel:
Photography has been begun to be applied on a large scale to the province of medical science, not only in taking interesting anatomical preparations and morbid phenomena of short duration, but in giving exact anatomical views of the different organs. The apparently impenetrable interior of living organs has been disclosed by eye-mirrors, ear-mirrors, and throat-mirrors, so that their interior is fully disclosed to the eye of the observer. In like manner, the image visible to the eye has been successfully retained by photography.95
For Vogel, photography’s relationship with transillumination was twofold: by penetrating the body’s interior, photography operated like transillumination, providing ‘exact anatomical views’ of organs; and by recording and disseminating transillumination’s interior views, it further aided medical science.
By the 1890s, when Röntgen unleashed the penetrative vision of X rays onto the world, physicians and scientists had been for some time, and would continue to be, deeply involved with illuminating the body’s interior with light. Finsen was among them, experimenting with the depths of the body’s penetrability by blue, violet, and ultraviolet light, and well beyond the skin surface.96 As previously discussed, Finsen developed the theories and techniques of phototherapy through self-experimentation. Like the blackening of silver salts on a photographic plate, Finsen witnessed his skin’s reddening and subsequent pigmenting as a register to test how transparent substances were to ultraviolet light. On his arm he glued a quartz disc and different coloured glass plates and additionally painted his initials (N. F.) with India ink (Fig. 2.5). He subsequently became interested in testing how deep actinic light could penetrate into the body, again by means of photographic experiments. Using his wife’s outer ear (pinna), behind which he had placed photographic paper, Finsen focused a beam of sunlight and noted that no reaction took place even after five minutes of exposure. But when he sandwiched the ear between two plates of glass, compressing it to drain blood from the area, the paper behind it became black within twenty seconds. From this he reasoned that light could penetrate through an organism’s skin and tissues if rendered bloodless (anaemic), heightening the rays’ effects on tuberculous skin lesions by reaching their bacterial source.97 Finsen had various devices and instruments to facilitate light’s penetration into lesions, including round lenses and skin compressors (Fig. 2.7).
Other physicians and researchers in France, Germany, and America conducted similar experiments during the 1890s, attempting to capture photographic imprints behind or beyond the body.98 Indeed, it is likely Finsen was influenced by Dr T. V. Godneff (Kazan), who in 1882 reported that he had blackened silver chloride sealed in glass tubes after physically inserting them under the skin of animals and exposing them to sunlight.99 These experiments convinced Finsen that the skin was penetrable by actinic light but the blood opaque to it, and consequently he considered it a hindrance to the cure. Others were determined to prove that sunlight and artificial light could act just like X rays and penetrate through and beyond the body, blood and all.
The French Dr Joseph Malgat (Nice) claimed that he had blackened photographic paper held behind a whole nude torso, arguing that sunlight penetrated through the entire body, reaching deeply seated lesions within it. Apparently Malgat demonstrated this in 1901, with the implication that sunlight was curative not only for skin lesions but also pulmonary tuberculosis, of lesions within the lungs.100 In a 1911 publication, he illustrated how he exposed his consumptive patients, seating them in an interior but facing an open window with sunlight directed onto the lungs (Fig. 4.14). Yet, as is obvious by the shadow projected behind the patient in Figure 4.14, sunlight did not penetrate through the chest or torso. Word and image here seem at odds, offering contrasting perceptions of sunlight’s penetrability into the human body.
In J. Malgat, La Cure solaire de la tuberculose pulmonaire chronique (Paris: J.-B. Baillière et fils, 1911), Figure 2, p. 179. Bibliothèque Nationale de France/Gallica.
Shortly afterwards in Britain, Dr James Sequeira of the London Hospital began experimenting with skin penetrability to test a new lamp on the market. The Simpson lamp, named after its inventor, was an arc lamp using rods of tungsten (Wolframite), rather than carbon. We encountered the tungsten arc lamp in the last chapter(Figs. 3.10–3.11), but when it was first invented some practitioners believed the lamp produced a new kind of ray entirely, termed ‘S’ rays.101 Sequeira set out to demonstrate that the lamp produced ordinary actinic light (mainly ultraviolet, though of a richer quantity that the carbon arc) and, like Finsen, used his own forearm as a light register. He even referenced Finsen’s experiment by making imprints of his own initials, J. H. S. Unlike Finsen, however, these initials were produced not with India ink but with layers of ‘fresh’ human skin (J) and frog skin (S) tied to his forearm with string. The ‘H’ was ordinary paper, and in his reproduced photograph it is clear, despite the lack of clarity, that all three impeded the Simpson lamp’s actinic rays to leave distinct, white shapes on his severely burnt arm. Though it may not have been his direct aim, Sequeira showed that human skin was not transparent to ultraviolet light, and went to morbid lengths to prove it.102
These differing perceptions of the relative transparency of the body to ultraviolet light were challenged by numerous experiments on the skin’s penetrability by different wavelengths.103 But by the 1920s it was generally understood that ultraviolet radiation only minimally penetrated the skin, and certainly did not enter into the body as infrared radiation did. In 1922, Hill asserted that ultraviolet rays penetrated only 0.1 millimetres, ‘being absorbed by the surface film of the skin’.104 Like X rays and radium, which by now were known to produce varying levels of penetrative rays – some ‘soft’, others ‘hard’105 – ultraviolet rays had begun to be dissected and analysed in sections, later divided as A, B, and C, and understood for their varying penetrative effects. Yet the myth of the body’s transparency to ultraviolet light did not dissipate completely. Reporting on a 1924 accident involving a member of the public who fell asleep under a mercury vapour lamp at home, Drs Henry MacCormac and H. Moreland McCrea described his near-fatal burns and noted that, despite having only exposed his front to the lamp, curiously the man’s back was covered with burns as well.106 Somehow the intense ultraviolet light had penetrated through his body, affecting unexposed body parts – an unintended confirmation of Malgat’s earlier theories.
Transillumination had not lost its pull either. Light therapists, including Hill, experimented with electric lamps placed into patients’ mouths, noting whether a red glow could be detected through the cheeks.107 Such an experiment confirmed the penetrability of red light, not ultraviolet, through the skin, blood, and tissues. Hill furthermore used it to prove the relative penetrability and absorptiveness of different racial pigmentations. The skin of white subjects was affected by transillumination but not that of black subjects; the electric light’s red glow was impeded by deep pigmentation. (In the next chapter I discuss how often practitioners relied on the evidence of racial variations of pigmentation, especially black skin, to explain therapeutic tanning’s action). Hill’s colleague at the NIMR, Albert Eidinow, also relied on transillumination during the 1920s. Interestingly, he used it to detect the photosensitivities of patients before commencing light treatment, inserting lights into the sinuses and measuring how intensely red the glow appeared. The redder the effect, the more sensitive the patient would be to ultraviolet light.108 This practice suggests a fascinating convergence of penetrating illuminations, in which varied methods of bringing light into the patient were relied upon together to ensure sufficient saturation. Practitioners’ desires to penetrate bodily orifices, especially those of women, will be discussed at length in Chapter 5 as well, especially in relation to perceptions of light’s effect on procreativity and sexuality.
In Hanovia’s ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’ advertisement of 1937 (Fig. 4.6), the layers denoting the emanating invisible light of the ultraviolet and infrared lamps descend onto the figure’s body. Like the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover (Plate 1), we have little sense of the light’s physical penetration into the body: the contours of the light block and those of the figure remain distinct. Is this representation indicative of later views about the relative impenetrability of the body to ultraviolet light, of it remaining only skin-deep? It is tempting to think so, except for the fact that the infrared light, well known to be deeply penetrative, is depicted confusingly in the exact same way.
As viewers we are to assume that direct, beneficial interaction between light and body is taking place in these representations, and that the body is therefore penetrable or, to quote Richardson, to some extent ‘translucent’, if not transparent, to the rays. Yet the body remains intact and whole, an irony particularly in Figure 4.6 considering its figure is meant to be burnt and wounded as evidenced by the advertisement title. Here the uninterrupted contour of the exposed back and legs is only further emphasised by overdrawing. This occurs invariably in advertisements showing figures exposed to emanating light, the body’s contours always remaining sharply delineated to mark out the figure as a separate layer superimposed over or distinct from the light. Their layers are not the physical imprints of shadows left behind by a body’s internal tissues, organs, and bones, what Zweifel referred to as literal traces or extensions of the body onto the film of radiographs. Unlike El Lissitzky’s montage (Fig. 4.13), which presents misty, translucent layers of overlapping photographs, light therapy’s montages have little similarity to a radiograph, even if these images share other techniques of vanguard representation. And, while Moholy-Nagy’s montage (Fig. 4.12) includes hard-edged layers of different media, it also presents ‘dematerialised’ objects, not least a female face that appears to disintegrate in the background of the middle panel. The ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover and the Hanovia ‘Alpine Sun Lamp’ advertisement, to the contrary, present bodies and light as overtly materialised, as tangible entities that curiously remain visibly separate and distinct. We see this also in Perihel’s advertisement cover (c. late 1940s–50s, Fig. 4.7). Indeed, it visualises the invisible ultraviolet light projecting from its dual-headed lamp (on the right), while the infrared light is absent entirely (on the left). The use of montage in these three instances presents various levels of sophistication, yet it remains a problematic form of representation to accurately disseminate light’s specific actions on the body. They confound any clear understanding of the body’s penetrability to ultraviolet (or infrared) rays. The models in each of these representations retain his or her cast shadows, of light reflecting off of and not penetrating into or through the body. This conflation, nay collapse, of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared rays exemplifies the clashing beliefs and confusion among practitioners and the public about their uses and differences.
Combining the rays
Hanovia’s ‘Alpine Sun’ montage depicts the emanating, invisible wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light as visible, white blocks of negative space (Fig. 4.6). Similarly, the Thermal Syndicate’s ‘Vi-tan’ montage depicts the crepuscular (implicitly ultraviolet) rays of natural sunlight but, by the placement of the lamp within the sun, infers these rays are artificially produced by the ‘Vi-tan’ (Plate 1). These confounding representations, collapsing distinctions between very different kinds of light and sources, occur again and again in advertisements for lamps.
In fact, the combining of different rays, and different sources, was commonly practised by light therapists and radiotherapists in Britain and abroad. The revered heliotherapist Sir Henry Gauvain, for example, happily combined natural sunlight with artificial light to treat his young patients at Treloar Hospital in Hampshire, and we have already encountered advertisements for home-use lamps in naturist journals like Sun Bathing Review (Fig. 4.10), complicating any easy separation between the natural and the artificial.109 As for the different rays produced by lamps, Beaumont explained that there was no device producing solely ultraviolet light:
There is no such thing as an ultra-violet lamp, if by that is understood an apparatus which produces a preponderance of ultra-violet radiation. Therefore, to speak of ultra-violet radiotherapy is a misnomer, because in the present state of our knowledge it is not known what results are due to the infra-red, or the visible, or the ultra-violet.110
The nurse Myrtle Vaughan-Cowell noted that a variety of lamps were therefore needed, since patients reacted differently to certain types of lamps and their outputs.111 Surely this only enabled further manufacture and consumption of phototherapy lamps, their sheer variety and patient idiosyncrasy productive forces for the market.
An exemplary case of combining rays in practice was the infrared light specialist Dr William Annandale Troup, practising in the medical district of Wimpole Street, London. Infrared was valuable therapeutically as an analgesic, heat serving this purpose since antiquity. It was used to treat various kinds of aches and pains in the body such as toothaches, earaches, arthritis, neuralgia, and sciatica, in place of drugs. In its ability to increase blood flow, Troup used infrared radiation to treat boils, abscesses, and wounds, irradiating the lesion to increase suppuration, and additionally found it sped healing on fractures.112 Like many other British practitioners, he also used infrared radiation in combination with ultraviolet radiation, and in some cases with X radiation. Indeed, from their inception during the 1890s, natural light (heliotherapy), artificial light (phototherapy), X rays (diagnostic and therapeutic), and radium (radiotherapy) would be applied, combined, and counteracted in the same department within hospitals, notably the Light Department of the Royal London Hospital and Finsen’s Light Institute.113
In the literature these rays are explained as interacting in exceptionally complex ways, as both allies and enemies. Troup, for example, used a combination of infrared and ultraviolet rays to treat sinusitis and neuralgia, perceiving the former to aid the latter’s penetration into the body.114 In images we find both kinds of lamps used together, the infrared lamp providing deeply penetrative warmth to assist the ‘cold’, poorly penetrative light of the mercury vapour lamp. We have already seen their combined use promoted in advertisements (Figs. 4.6–4.7), but clinical photographs exist too (Fig. 4.15). In Figure 4.15, a photograph of goggled child patients receiving phototherapy at the Institute of Ray Therapy, two Jesionek-type mercury vapour lamps irradiated the children while an infrared lamp in the centre provided heat. In fact, the combining of lamps occurred early on, as evidenced by a 1912 catalogue listing by the Cavendish Electrical Company, which promoted combined use of a carbon arc light and an incandescent light ‘bath’ (made of incandescent light bulbs to provoke intense sweating in the patient).115
Hulton Archive, Fox Photos/Getty Images.
Though Troup combined infrared and ultraviolet rays, confusingly he also described infrared as counteracting the effects of ultraviolet: ‘The effects of an overdosage of ultra-violet rays can to a large extent be counteracted by subsequent exposure to infra-red radiation, and the skin effects [solar erythema] can be markedly decreased.’116 Used before or during treatment, infrared aided ultraviolet radiation’s effects on the body. Used afterwards, it apparently decreased them, particularly the severity of solar erythema if overdosed. The confusing love–hate relationship between infrared and ultraviolet radiation in clinical applications occurs between ultraviolet and X radiation as well and is further complicated by the addition of radium’s alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. For instance, for over forty years ultraviolet light, via carbon arc and mercury vapour lamps, was used to complement X rays and radium, especially when treating lupus vulgaris and other skin diseases.117 However, physicians also used these ultraviolet lamps and natural sunlight to treat the burns caused by X rays and radium, using ultraviolet light to temper or reverse the effects of an X ray or radium overdose – just as Troup advised infrared radiation to counteract ultraviolet overdoses.118
Moreover, in the public domain, manufacturers capitalised on the frequent confusion between ultraviolet and violet light. In the words of Drs Eleanor and Kerr Russell, ‘At present there is great confusion in the public mind between the two terms “violet rays” and “ultra-violet rays,” and they are continually being confounded’.119 In local and national newspapers, ‘violet rays’ and ‘violet ray apparatus’ were commonly used to mean ultraviolet rays and devices.120 These may have been innocent slippages, making for short, punchy titles, except that there was also a device widely available known as the ‘violet ray machine’. This was an electrical device producing a high frequency current that lit up with a purple-coloured light, which was used to treat hair loss, rheumatism, sciatica, and headaches. Members of the public could access violet-ray treatment in various ways: at beauty salons, from chiropractors, and at home through purchase of units directly from suppliers, including well known, reputable department stores like Selfridges.121 Advertisements for it were even included in the Sunlight League’s journal, Sunlight, edited by natural sunlight enthusiast Saleeby (Fig. 4.16). It was popular enough to warrant concern: it was described as a quack device by equally well known, reputable medical men such as Sir Leonard Hill, by manufacturers of ‘genuine’ light therapy equipment like Hanovia, and in local newspapers.122 Despite these warnings, the violet-ray machine continued to be produced, marketed, and sold, consumed by a public eager for its stimulating action.
In Sunlight, 2:3 (1930), 122. Author’s collection.
The violet-ray machine shared important similarities with the myriad, contemporaneous products purporting to be enhanced by radium or X rays, advertised in the same venues. In British popular newspapers, radium products were widely advertised in the form of spa waters, like Buxton and Bath, at hotels like Peebles, within illuminated watch dials, pads for gout and rheumatism, skin cosmetics, and via emanators to inhale it directly into the lungs.123 The actual quantity of radium in these products was questionable, and yet, as Thomas de la Peña argued, the very existence of such a wide variety of radium products suggests that ‘consumers sought connections with radium beyond the analytical. They desired to see the element act on the body, to see its invisibility made visible in the form of topical and ingestible products.’124
Ultraviolet rays similarly materialised through home-use lamps and were made visible as weighty masses of emanating whiteness in their advertisements. So too were they understood to be ingestible, products to be literally consumed to protect the body from ‘sun starvation’ (see Chapter 5). Whether as graphic emanating lines that reach out towards the user, as in Figure 4.10, or as solid blocks (Plate 1, Figs. 4.3, 4.6–4.7), in these advertisements the rays are made tangible, graspable, even appetising. To an eager and hungry public, manufacturers encouraged gluttonous consumption of home-use lamps. The ‘Vi-tan’ lamp’s incredible (and incredulous) output of 99 per cent ultraviolet radiation made it a potentially volatile device, yet in its advertising the association between the dynamism of the Art Deco rays and the sexual appeal of their recipient makes them appear less dangerous than delicious (Plate 1). In spite of awareness of the risks, these lamps and their radiation could inflict on patients and members of the public, the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover leaves its viewer wanting.
The risky rays
As stated in the last chapter, for Gauvain, therapeutic exposure to sunlight could be understood as a beneficial and stimulating ‘light shock’ to the body.125 This notion of the ‘light shock’ was both metaphorical and unintentionally literal: electric shocks, severe burns, and even death occurred during light-therapy exposures. Practitioners also reported cases of burst bulbs and adverse reactions such as severe burns and blisters, spoke of the eerie, greenish glow of the mercury vapour lamp and the purplish appearance of flesh underneath it, and noted that children were frightened by the carbon arc lamp’s spluttering and hissing.126 Because of this light treatment ‘séances’ (sittings) had much in common with those involving X-ray machines, which similarly could spark and shock, took place in the dark, frightened patients, and produced noxious ozone.127 ‘Seance’ was therefore a fitting description for these treatments, the machines’ ‘magical’ properties less fantastical than dark (Fig. 3.3). When it first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, photography too was described as form of black magic and one that, until the early twentieth century, retained its associations with the supernatural.128 Some photographs of phototherapy sessions, such as Figure 3.3, are reminiscent of spiritualist photographs of séances, like those by the noted chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes, which Tom Gunning described as ‘oscillating between the amusing and the truly creepy’.129 Crookes was, like Lodge, a spiritualist, and they both acted as presidents for the Society of Psychical Research (f. 1882).130 Lodge’s foreword in Drs Russells’ 1925 book, Ultra-violet Radiation and Actinotherapy, in the epigraph above, positions ultraviolet radiation as a mysterious and unknown force not unlike other curious, if not creepy, vibrations and emanations.
Light therapy’s literature does not lack for textual descriptions about the dangers and risks of the treatment. From its inception its destructiveness was prized. Finsen considered actinic light’s ‘injurious’ character the very foundation of the treatment’s success (see epigraph). Some physicians described the resultant sunburn as a visual sign of the body having received a beneficial ‘beating’ by radiation.131 Warnings in the BMJ suggest that public sunbathing, with subsequent overexposure, was already a popular practice by the time of the First World War.132 As early as 1914, an article in The Times associated the dangers of ultraviolet light alongside those of X rays and radium:
While we enjoy the brilliant days that summer may have in store, it is well to realize that light contains dangerous as well as health-giving qualities and understand how to use it to the best hygienic advantage […] These ultra-violet rays are, with the X-rays and radium, among the most remarkable physical phenomena known. They possess the power of destroying animal tissues with great rapidity.133
These early examples indicate the openness of sources to discuss light’s dangers, much as early reports announced those of X rays and radium, especially latent burns.134 Though I have found in many of light therapy’s images signs of damage, ‘burns’, and overexposure, its visual culture provides few overt representations of the therapy’s risks. In this its history differs significantly from those of radiotherapy, which possesses plenty of visual representations of radiation burns (dermatitis), injuries, and consequent amputations (Fig. 4.17).
4.17 Leonard Portal Mark, a patient’s left hand affected with chronic dermatitis, the result of exposure to the Röntgen rays, 1908.
Watercolour. Wellcome Library and St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives and Museum, London CC BY-NC 4.0.
Less overt than covert, the visual material communicates light therapy’s risks through confounding representations. Let us return to the ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover as a poignant example (Plate 1). Dressed for the beach, without her requisite pair of goggles, and draped by the lamp’s unplugged electrical cord, the woman in the advertisement presents a curious and contradictory set of messages about safe, effective, artificial exposures. Indeed, she is even wearing a swimming cap on her head, making a bold association with the lido or seaside, despite the fact that engaging in any activities involving water while operating these electrical devices was downright dangerous. Reports, for instance, in 1928 of a law student who died by electrocution, operating a lamp while he bathed, were widely circulated in the popular press and commented upon in the BMJ.135 In The Times’ ‘Sunlight and Health’ supplement of the same year, Hanovia included a vignette in an advertisement that illustrated two children standing in front of a mercury vapour lamp, placed directly at the edge of a public swimming pool.136
A montage from Hanovia’s ‘Homesun’ pamphlet of 1940 is similarly ambiguous about safe exposures (Plate 2). A mother and baby, coloured in a saturated, near-fluorescent orange to represent their glowing tans, are positioned on a bed as they are exposed to the lamp’s actinic light. Again note the theatrical hard-edged emanation of white light that splays towards them, like a spotlight on a darkened stage. It is but one of many advertisements featuring users in bed. As mentioned earlier, two London doctors reported a case of overexposure occurring in 1924, which involved a seventy-two-year-old man falling asleep under his mercury vapour lamp at home for over an hour (instead of ten minutes). This resulted in such severe burning, oedema, and heart palpitations over the next two weeks that the man almost died.137 Inasmuch as the ultraviolet rays were described as vitalising and stimulating, manufacturers warned that using the lamps could soothe users to sleep; this correlates to reports of members of the public severely burnt because they fell asleep in bed under their lamps, alone and unsupervised.138 One physician even suggested that overuse of a lamp had caused a woman to miscarry.139
These accidents only served to confer more authority upon practitioners as the necessary ‘expert’ administrators and supervisors of patients’ treatment, back in the realm of the clinic.140 While some practitioners celebrated the public’s access to artificial light for private use, others anxiously cried out for regulation. In her 1928 book, Artificial Sunlight, Vaughan-Cowell, for example, declared:
The problem of dosage is an extremely complex one, and for this reason all treatments must be carried out strictly under medical supervision, this also is why we must denounce ‘home’ treatment and the installation of lamps by the lay public. In this respect we must be absolutely loyal, which will not only be the means of protecting our patients and ourselves, but will also be performing a public duty, and prevent what should be purely a medical science from getting into the hands of the ‘quack’.141
Ironically, in her book the publishers included an advertisement for the ‘Home-Sunlight Arc Lamp’ by the Westminster Engineering Company (London).
The British Medical Association’s 1928 meeting addressed the fact that no law was in place to restrict amateurs and the general public to use ultraviolet rays, in addition to X rays, radium, and electricity.142 As with these other wild and powerful natural forces, the frequent voicing of concern among practitioners over regulating access to light, especially ultraviolet light, is indicative of underlying anxiety among the medical community about retaining sufficient control over exposures (see Chapter 2). Their aim, Vaughan-Cowell made clear, was to prevent light therapy from losing legitimacy as a valid, successful modern therapeutic in the unqualified hands of the ignorant public or unscrupulous quack. As Thomas de la Peña argued, such declarations were counterproductive, merely reinforcing the products themselves as valid medical devices, whoever owned them.143
The attempt to control and manage these wild, natural forces is described by historians as a process of ‘domestication’. I find the word’s multivalent meanings, as a ‘taming’ and a ‘making suitable for the home’, particularly apt in reference to Vaughan-Cowell’s book, in which her decidedly anti-‘domestic’ denouncement of home treatment sits ambiguously alongside Westminster’s advertisement. Like electricity entering British households via incandescent lighting, ultraviolet radiation, via home-use lamps, needed to be harnessed to be welcomed into the home (and body). The ‘Vi-tan’ pamphlet cover’s model domesticates its rays by wearing the lamp’s cord around her as a fashion accessory. Public displays of female dancers draped in glittering light bulbs achieved the same theatrical and ‘magical’ effects decades earlier.144 Yet the ‘Vi-tan’ lamp is rendered safe not because it has been aestheticised and feminised by the female body but simply because it is not plugged in.145 If, according to Gooday, ‘The taming process involved mitigating the dangers, uncertain behaviour and aesthetic provocations of electricity’, then domesticating ultraviolet radiation was doomed to failure from the beginning.146 That ultraviolet radiation was known to stimulate sexual desire to the point of excess and produce tans inspired by ‘primitive’ dark bodies would suggest, to the contrary, it rendered its consumers wild and untamed (see Chapter 5).
The history of home-use lamps in Britain is not a history of the successful ‘domestication’ of a medical technology, but of the ongoing, unstable character of light therapy and the inability to control a resistant, ephemeral force of nature. Of course, as Rima Apple, Simon Carter, and Matthew Lavine all argued, its instabilities only compelled medical authorities to attempt to intercede more and more, to produce new research and products to counter inaccuracies or unfavourable results, and confer more authority onto medicine and science.147 This is beautifully illustrated by the following quote by Dr Percy Hall (Mount Vernon Hospital and the Hull Municipal Light Clinic) in a foreword to a 1935 handbook on light treatment for masseuses:
Probably no new therapeutic method in the history of modern medicine has achieved such widespread use in so short a time as has light treatment. Its apparent simplicity led thousands of doctors, masseuses and others to avail themselves of it in the treatment of various disorders. Hospitals up and down the country opened Light Departments, and clinics for its use sprang up like mushrooms. The trouble was that very few persons had a sufficient knowledge of the subject to enable them to get the desired results. A great many unpleasant and unfortunate consequences occurred which, too often, were blamed on the method rather than the lack of skill and experience of the administrator. It was an almost exact repetition of what happened after the discovery of Roentgen was first made public. How, however, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, and there is a laudable desire on the part of masseurs and masseuses in particular – who so often, in both hospital and private practice, are entrusted with this treatment without being given precise directions as to technique and dosage – to gain proficient knowledge at the hands of clinicians who are really experienced and competent to impart the necessary instruction.148
However much Hall asserted his own superiority as a physician with an expertise in light treatment, his statement betrays certain anxieties over the therapy’s rise, fall, resurgence, and widening dissemination to ‘lesser’ sorts of medical authority (i.e. masseuses). Dependence upon medical authority did not necessarily equate to further control over therapeutic exposures.
The practitioner’s need to assert control over the therapy’s legitimisation and dissemination went beyond words; it was a bodily commitment. Finsen first understood the penetrative and transforming powers of actinic light by irradiating his own forearm with a carbon arc lamp, not unlike contemporaneous X-ray and radium ‘martyrs’ whose bodies registered the dangerous effects of radiation exposure in the early days of experimentation.149 As discussed in Chapter 2, practitioners commonly used their own arms for standardising lamp outputs. This method of self-testing went so far as injecting photo-sensitising chemicals into their bodies. In a 1913 experiment, the German F. Meyer-Betz injected himself with haematoporphyrin, the iron-free derivative of haemoglobin, which made him seriously ill and extremely photosensitive for weeks (Fig. 4.18). No doubt the taking of the photograph was itself an unpleasant experience, requiring exposure to actinic light to be produced. On mice haematoporphyrin produced extreme skin reactions, swelling, convulsions, and shortness of breath, eventually resulting in ‘light death’.150
In Leonard Hill, Sunshine and Open Air: Their Influence on Health, with Special Reference to the Alpine Climate (London: Edward Arnold, 1925), Plate 7, opposite p. 94. Author’s collection.
The notion of ‘death by light’ can be correlated to rising awareness during the same period that ultraviolet light was carcinogenic. British researchers began making this connection as early as 1925 and proved by 1928 that ultraviolet light could cause cancer. This began with a report by Dr George William Marshall Findlay, given at the Pathological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in February 1925.151 At this time in his long and illustrious career, Findlay was employed in the laboratories of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, and by 1929 with the Wellcome Bureau of Scientific Research.152 Citing reports from 1896 in Germany, France, America, and Australia, Findlay stated, ‘The possibility that the sun’s rays may play a part in this excessive production of skin cancer has not lacked supporters.’153 He admitted, however, that no one had yet definitely reported a case of skin cancer due specifically to ultraviolet light. Findlay’s experiments on white mice, reported three years later in the Lancet (1928), were the earliest to show the explicitly carcinogenic action of ultraviolet light in the laboratory. Within eight months the rays produced cancerous growths, both ‘simple papillomata’ and ‘malignant epitheliomata’, on the mice’s backs.
G. Lenthal Cheatle echoed Findlay’s initial 1925 report by providing his own opinions about the carcinogenic powers of sunlight, especially ultraviolet light. He cited an article he wrote for the BMJ in 1909, on the effects of what he called ‘biotripsis’ (‘life wear’) on the hands of elderly countrywomen. He now sought to argue that such ‘life wear’, resulting in skin cancer lesions (squamous epithelioma) must be due to sunlight, and he furthermore recently witnessed a lesion worsen dramatically following ultraviolet light treatment.154 Hill responded in the following week’s BMJ issue by deferring to Bernhard, who had never witnessed epithelioma on the hands or faces (those body parts most exposed to sunlight) of workers regularly out of doors in the intense Alpine sunshine.155 Hill reasoned that since British sunshine was far less intense than that of the Alps, no danger was to be had there. ‘If there were danger of ultra-violet radiation causing cancer, as x rays have done, the operators and patients in such institutes as the Finsen would have shown this by now’, he concluded.156 Edward James Deck, who a year later produced the Sunlight League’s popular treatise, The Sun and How to Use It, supported Hill’s views and added that he, in fact, had successfully treated squamous carcinoma of the hands with ultraviolet rays following surgical removal of the growth, and finished his letter: ‘In conclusion I would like to refer to the condition of my own hands. After approximately 35,000 administrations of ultra-violet rays I think there is distinctly less sign of “biotripsis” than is customary at the age of 52, though I have never safeguarded my skin in any way.’157 Deck’s concluding remarks were undoubtedly an indirect reference to the hands of X-ray operators, whose gradual destruction – first by X-ray dermatitis, ulcerating lesions, eventual amputation, and finally death – made the medical community fully aware of their lethal power. This connection between the rays would continue well into the 1940s, now further united by their common nature as carcinogens.158
When Findlay provided laboratory evidence in 1928 in the Lancet, again the responses were swift and sceptical, despite the fact that the journal’s editors urged caution in the use of a treatment still ‘yet in its infancy’.159 Findlay’s procedure and results were questioned by light therapist and radiologist Dr Maurice Weinbren for their ‘incriminating’ claims, to which Findlay’s pointedly responded with clarity and, in 1930, with further laboratory results, this time using rats.160 Though British physicians like Findlay were providing laboratory (‘controlled’) results of ultraviolet light’s carcinogenic powers by the mid-1920s, in-depth studies did not occur until the 1940s, due in part to rising interest in radiation research in the forms of radiation biology and nuclear power. As Sally Dunne Romano discussed, it was only in the 1950s and 1960s that the medical community and the public came to fully accept ultraviolet light’s carcinogenic power, which grew in part due to larger, generic fears about ‘radiation’, ‘cancer’, and their ambiguous meanings.161
The ‘Vi-tan’ lamp and its advertisement (Fig. 4.1, Plate 1) make materially manifest Freund’s notion of ‘synthetic nature’, a fantastical and even ‘magical’ conceptualisation of modern technology’s capacities to perfect the body. Fusing natural and new man-made materials, the lamp is a decorative object offering to beautify the British home and its users by perfecting and exceeding the powers of natural sunlight. Such a promise was further conveyed through the magic of modern advertising. The pamphlet cover presents synthetic nature using the disjunctive layers of montage, which confounds the distinction between the artificial and the natural, the visible and the invisible, reality and fantasy. The lamp’s/sun’s emanating ultraviolet rays are given visible form as Art Deco sunbeams yet remain the dramatic background for the model, not her cure: this is theatre, not therapy. The montage is beautiful, glamorous, fantastical, and modern, but ultraviolet radiation resisted even vanguard attempts to aestheticise and render safe its dangers. Unlike the incandescent light bulb, the home-use lamp could not be wholly ‘domesticated’ amidst awareness of its dangerous and even lethal potential to harm members of the public. With its volatile emanating light it could never become ‘domestic lighting’.
For manufacturers, selling synthetic nature through ‘artificial sunlight’ was a risky business. A seductive ‘poison’, it was equally so for those desiring to consume it.162 While risk, in medicine and society, is a culturally and historically specific concept, this chapter has focused on the objects and images in terms of risk, danger, and bodily damage to continue exploring the tensions in light therapy’s nascent British reception and legitimisation.163 In focusing on light therapy’s risks and technology, my intention has not been to denigrate its successes or historic value but rather to unpick its complicated relationship with other radiation therapies, its public dissemination, and the anxieties of its practitioners concerned about controlling its access. The public received confusing messages about ultraviolet radiation’s capabilities from practitioners and manufacturers, not least through the visual. Depicted as razor-edged shafts of light and encroaching masses of negative white space in heavily overworked advertisements, these risky rays transport the user to the realm of science fiction. Indeed, such representations present remarkable similarities to H. G. Wells’ lethal ‘heat ray’ of the Martians in The War of the Worlds (1898), in both function and representation. With its destructive white flash, the ‘heat ray’ was described by Wells as both a ‘camera’ and a ‘searchlight’ (carbon arc light), collapsing photographic and phototherapeutic risks alike Meyer-Betz’s image (Fig. 4.18).164 Through the light sensitiser haematoporphyrin, Meyer-Betz had become so saturated by actinic light that he was in danger of ‘light death’. A dangerous photogenesis, his bodily state approached the victims of radium poisoning, whose corpses were so saturated that they imprinted themselves onto photographic plates.165
By 1914, in The World Set Free, Wells predicted the future of atomic warfare in his ongoing fascination with powerful invisible energies, a fascination he shared with scientists like Frederick Soddy as well as members of the public.166 Indeed, ultraviolet, X, and gamma rays had been seducing professional and lay audiences since the 1890s. For Lavine, ‘radiation and radioactivity were not entirely at home in the scientific establishment. They were disruptive; they broke laws and unbalanced equations. They were, as the amused commentary from newspaper editorialists had it, “naughty.”’167 As he made clear, sexual innuendo was part and parcel of radiation’s appeal from the outset. Evading practitioners’ and manufacturers’ attempts to harness it, ultraviolet radiation was similarly risky, untameable, ‘naughty’.
The connection between sunlight, sexuality, and death finds an important mediator in the form of the atom bomb. Its nuclear radiation was explained to an international public as artificial sunlight, just as radium had been half a century earlier.168 An image of actress Rita Hayworth (1918–87) graced the metal shell of bomb ‘Able’ above Bikini lagoon in July 1946.169 The ‘explosive fashion’ of the two-piece swimsuit, the bikini, emerged from Paris four days later.170 Enabling, nay encouraging, exposure of the bombshell’s flesh to the sun’s ‘kiss’ and the admirer’s gaze, the bikini cemented associations between light, risk, and sexuality. As evinced in the next chapter, in spite of its risks ultraviolet radiation retained its desirability in the eyes of the public as well as practitioners, government lobbyists, and social campaigners. Its photogenic qualities lent glamour and sex appeal to national interests in regenerating the ‘race’, saturating the white British body with radiant colour.