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Light therapy and visual culture in Britain, c. 1890–1940

Soaking up the rays forges a new path for exploring Britain’s fickle love of the light by investigating the beginnings of light therapy in the country from c.1890-1940. Despite rapidly becoming a leading treatment for tuberculosis, rickets and other infections and skin diseases, light therapy was a contentious medical practice. Bodily exposure to light, whether for therapeutic or aesthetic ends, persists as a contested subject to this day: recommended to counter psoriasis and other skin conditions as well as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression; closely linked to notions of beauty, happiness and well-being, fuelling tourism to sunny locales abroad and the tanning industry at home; and yet with repeated health warnings that it is a dangerous carcinogen. By analysing archival photographs, illustrated medical texts, advertisements, lamps, and goggles and their visual representation of how light acted upon the body, Woloshyn assesses their complicated contribution to the founding of light therapy. Soaking up the rays will appeal to those intrigued by medicine’s visual culture, especially academics and students of the histories of art and visual culture, material cultures, medicine, science and technology, and popular culture.

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.1 ). Printed for the first time from Tudor-Hart’s secret archive for the recent retrospective exhibition, Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny (Edinburgh, Vienna and Berlin, 2013–14), the image had only previously been an unseen and unused negative. It was one of at least two she made of the phototherapy facilities at the hospital ( Fig. 3.2 ), part of a commission she undertook alongside fellow émigré photographer Grete

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Finsen, the Danish researcher, Nobel laureate, and inventor of phototherapy. While not British, this photograph was reproduced and discussed by light-therapy practitioners internationally, and it provides a point of origin for the British images I analyse in this chapter. From its amateurish quality, especially those misty areas that are likely the result of clumsy ‘fixing’ during the development process, one might simply

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(London). In the Times supplement, 22 May 1928, p. xxxix. ‘Light therapy’ encompassed a variety of methods and approaches. Bodies consumed therapeutic light in one of two ways: outdoors in the natural sunshine, known as heliotherapy; or indoors with artificial, electrical substitutes, known variously as phototherapy, artificial sunlight therapy

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, natural source. To conclude, I want to discuss two very different contemporary images about light exposure, both of which inform and are informed by light therapy’s history ( Figs. 6.1 – 6.2 ). The first is from Danish photographer Nicolai Howalt’s series, ‘Light Break’ ( Fig. 6.1 ). 20 Howalt gained intimate access to the Finsen archive in the Medical Museion (Copenhagen), borrowing pieces of original phototherapy equipment

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-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

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[ultra]violet rays’. 39 His method for treating lupus vulgaris with local phototherapy, however, was orientated around blood as a problem, a far too efficient screen that, like pigmentation, hindered light’s penetration. Finsen sought to drain blood away from lupus vulgaris lesions by means of compressors, hoping for deeper penetration of the actinic rays to reach the source of tuberculous infection ( Fig. 2.7 ). But his

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