Michaela Clark


Curating the Clinical: Investigating 20th Century Medical Photographs in Cape Town’s Hospitals



PhD Project

My research studies a historical collection of patient photographs created by the University of Cape Town’s medical school in South Africa during the 20th century. As is typical of disused documents of this kind, little is known about how they were made, who made them, how they were used, who the patients seen in the photographs are, or the ethical considerations that affect the collection today. It is in response to such uncertainties that my project approaches this set of photographs as material artefacts whose visual content and physical nature complement traditional sources of historical inquiry. In doing so, I aim to both investigate the social history of medicine through this photographic collection as well as showcase the global importance of preserving and studying clinical photographs within a postcolonial and global context.

For updates on the archival and research process for this project, please follow https://curatingtheclinical.wordpress.com/

Research Interests

History of medicine, politics of representation, visual and material culture studies, photography theory, objects of affect, curatorial discourse, museum studies, postcolonial theory, institutional history, twentieth century history.

Previous Study and Work

In 2017 I was awarded a research-based Masters (MA) cum laude in Visual Studies (thesis: Syphilis, Skin, and Subjectivity: Historical Clinical Photographs in the Saint Surgical Pathology Collection https://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/101205) after having completed my BA Honours cum laude in the same subject field in 2014 (research article: Breaching the ‘Clean and Proper’ Body: Bodily Materiality, Skin, and Subjectivity in the Art of John Isaacs). These, as well as my undergraduate degree (BA) in Visual Communication Design, were completed at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. I have lectured part-time in the Visual Art Department at this and other academic institutions in South Africa since 2015, and supervised both undergraduate and honours students since 2017. I have headed blended learning in the Visual Arts Department at Stellenbosch University, facilitated a digital curation project for the University of Cape Town’s Pathology Learning Centre, and offered content and language editing services for students and staff of the Arts and Social Sciences.

Published Work

“Patients, Power and Representation: Clinical Photographs in Focus”. De Arte 54(2). https://doi.org/10.1080/00043389.2019.1580415

“Seeing things differently: a reflection on clinical photography”. Hektoen International: a Journal of Medical Humanities. http://hekint.org/2018/03/15/seeing-things-differently-reflection-clinical-photography/