Anatomy of a Hospital Photo

Check out this photo from Childcraft, Volume 13: The Young Child, published in 1954. I picked up the book at a thrift store.

Photo of a masked nurse in white holding a baby in a nursery behind a large window. A boy, girl and grandmother look with excitement at the baby from behind the glass wall. Photo by F.P.G. in Childcraft, Volume 13: The Young Child, published in 1954.Take a good look. What do you see?

The Obvious: A masked nurse wearing an old time nurse’s cap holds a newborn infant in a hospital nursery. A girl, teenage boy and grandmother stare at the baby in excitement from behind a huge glass viewing window.

Not As Obvious: This is an image of authority. If taken today, the photo would show a new mom holding her infant in her arms, surrounded by family members. But in the era of hospital nurseries, the doctors and nurses held all authority and knowledge. Childbirth was purely a medical procedure requiring total intervention by medical professionals.

So, the baby in the photo needs to be cared for by the nurse, detached from its mother and family.

My Wife Says I’m Out on a Limb: The nurse is an angelic or God-like figure of authority above all doubt.

Lots of pregnant couples today resist the idea of a hospital birth or want one which is as natural (as few medical interventions) as possible. This mindset is rooted in a rebellion from how hospitals used to handle births.

Now, in the photo, did you notice the light source directly behind the nurse’s head? (Actually, it’s probably a process called "dodging," achieved in the dark room by letting less light hit that area of the paper.) In art circles we’d call that a halo. It’s no coincidence, not an accident. The photo’s composition has been perfectly crafted. What idea does it convey about the nurse? Heavenly? Angelic? Above reproach.

Unrelated Observation: My wife, an OB nurse, said that at least once a month she gets asked, "Where’s the nursery? We’d like to look at babies in the window." That question comes from visitors who are at the hospital for a reason other than childbirth. They apparently grow bored and think they can go look at babies. There is indeed a nursery, but it’s for sick babies and not for public viewing.


One Response to “Anatomy of a Hospital Photo”

  1. thordora says:

    Pictures like that always creep me out.

    March 1st, 2006 at 8:54 am

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