PHO705: Sick Photography Representations of Sickness in Art Photography – Maija Tammi

This is one of four contextualization blogs I intend to publish in Week 6 and will expand upon later. The post is meant to evidence some earlier research I started in a previous study module and that I carry through into my FMP.

My reading had led to the Aalto University doctoral dissertation 172/2017 as published in the book by this title: Sick Photography Representations of Sickness in Art Photography – Maija Tammi (Tammi, 2017).

This work covers a similar divide to my own, i.e. that between medical science and photographic art.

The publication overlaps into two exhibitions held in Finland.

Keywords: Sickness; disease; illness; art photography; abject; Kristeva; Kleinman

The best description I can offer for this difficult subject is the Author Maija Tammi’s own words from her book abstract which I have wholeheartedly copied below:

“This artistic research scrutinizes how sickness has been represented in art photography and examines the new ways to approach, think about and create photographic art about sickness. This dissertation combines theoretical research and artworks. t\he theoretical part shows that while scholars have concentrated the ethics of what kinds of images of sickness or suffering ought to be shown or on the psychology of why some images of sickness bother viewers, most art photographers have concentrated on depicting personal illness experiences. The research applies anthropologist Arthur Kleinman’s definitions of sickness, illness, and disease in a diagram to examine photographic artworks approach the topic.”

“To understand the functions and the meanings of the different approaches, the research draws especially from Julia Kristeva’s writings on the abject. The main results of the research, artworks Leftover and White Rabbit Fever are intertwined with the theoretical part. Leftover was exhibited at Photographic Gallery Hippolyte in Helsinki in January 2014, and White Rabbit Fever at Gallery Lapinlahti in Helsinki in September 2016. Both bodies of work have also been published as books: Leftover/Removal by Kehrer Verlag in 2014, and White Rabbit Fever by Bromide Book in 2017.”


Charles Baudelaire, “… copying nature had nothing to do with art.” (Tammi, 2017) Page 54.


Having read this work, it is clear there is a distinction present between the book with sickness, illness and disease versus the photo project and healing as glow. A similarity of sorts is in the book exemplifying the growing and dividing HeLa cells with the progressive colour change of the suspension. Beyond these comparisons the book and photo project are separate subject matters both involving the human body.

Common considerations do exist that have perhaps been down played or given cause to obscure and these relate to:

  • Ethical and aesthetic problems
  • Disturbing images
  • The difficulty of looking – the abject
  • Difficult photos – aversion; Freud’s uncanny; Misselhorn’s aesthetic of disgust

(Tammi, 2017) Pages 29, 37, 181-204, 215

“… it is not sickness that should be be re-defined or questioned but health.” Page 217 And healing in health is exactly what the photo project does focus upon.


Tammi, M. (2017) Sick Photography Representations of Sickness in Art Photography. Edited by M. Tammi. Lahti, Finland: Aalto University Publication- Aalto ARTS Books Helsinki. Available at:

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