September 1, 2008
A Dose of Reality
A young photographer explores the view from the hospital bed.
This issue of Metropolis includes several stories on health-care products and facilities. Admirably, the designers working in this industry are trying their best to improve the patient experience—and yet sometimes the hypothetical patient starts to become a bit fuzzy, an abstract “user” whose predictable needs can be met by colorful curtains, plentiful daylight, or a few more ergonomic devices.
Kathryn Parker Almanas’s recent series of photographs, Medical Interior, is a potent reminder of just how existentially unnerving a hospital stay can be. The 26-year-old artist says her aim was to consider medicine as an entity that is both comforting and threatening, but there is little in the way of comfort here. In one photo, a bare light box for viewing X-rays is like a beacon of dread. In others it is hard to know what is more unsettling: the cold, clinical spaces or the occasional fissures in the sterile veneer (test tubes capped in wrinkled tinfoil, a clouded glass beaker stained by dark liquid).
Last year, Almanas earned an M.F.A. in photography from Yale University, and she was recently included in 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers, Volume 2 (powerHouse Books). Her choice of subject matter was partially the result of her own battles with a life-threatening illness, but she is quick to dismiss any sort of autobiographical reading of the series. “I never wanted it to be self-pitying, or about me,” she says. “I wanted to open it up to be something more universal, something that we could all experience.”