Tag Archives: Tuberculosis

Chest 128 – Spes. An Exercise on Hope

8 Dec


Chest 128C

Chest 128; Spes. – An exercise on Hope

Dum spiro, spero – whilst I breathe, I hope.

Spes is the Latin word for hope, and from this comes spes phthisica the hope of the person afflicted with phthisis, otherwise known as consumption, now known as tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis was known as consumption, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis discovered by the microbiologist Robert Koch in 1885. At the time one in seven deaths in Europe was caused by this disease, there were no antibiotics, and the only way to control it was to isolate the patients in sanatoria.

It was in a hospital, previously a sanatorium, that I first worked on moving to England in 1975. We had only three TB drugs in routine use at the time, Streptomycin which also made the patients deaf by damaging their auditory nerves, Isoniazid which I doubt had any effect on the disease, and PAS, an aspirin derivative which was taken in large tablets that caused such painful stomach erosions that the patients would surreptitiously throw it out of the window killing the grass on the lawns outside.

It was at this hospital I encountered the euphoria of hope in young people dying of tuberculosis – spes phthisica. In the older times it was believed to be peculiar to consumptives in which physical wasting led to euphoric flowering and creative aspects of the soul; genius would burst forth. Many of the great poets dying of tuberculosis produced their best work in their final months of life. Keats  great output during the last year of life was thought to be directly due to consumption. Shelly, similarly. Alexander Dumas Fils (1852) wrote; ”It was the fashion to suffer from the lungs…. It was good form to spit blood after any emotion that was at all sensational, and to die before the age of thirty”.

My memory is of a young woman wracked with TB acquired during treatment for an autoimmune disease, with terrible arthritic joints, coughing blood, hardly able to breathe, smiling the entire time, discussing with me how to set a perfect dinner table, what glassware she would choose, and the menu she planned to prepare for her next dinner party. She passed on within a month.

In the background of this picture is a chest X-ray from a man with tuberculosis. In the foreground the rotten stump of a tree branch. The angle of the forked branch reminded me of the arms of a crucifix, into the corner I have inserted an eye of hope gazing toward heaven.



Chest 64; Two kinds of hope

12 May


In this image I tried to make a picture both simple (well, relatively so, most of my images are quite busy), and at the same time be powerful enough to carry a deeper meaning. The cross crept in almost by accident, I’d intended to exclude it, it was visible on the original picture; wooden tools from a commercial fishing boat leaning against a shack wall in the sun. In the final cut the cross seemed to carry a lot of weight, so not only was it left in, but became the main focus. Hope is a recurring feature of my images – spes phthisica a condition of euphoria described in patients dying of lung disease (mainly TB). I saw it in a close relative dying of cancer, in her last week happily purchasing embroideries and tapestries needing months to finish, and planning years into the future.

The chest X-ray was reduced to its minimal parts, it was from a lady with tubercular infection of the lungs and complications –  fibrosis, and a pneumothorax. What is left on the picture just retains the diagnostic elements albeit minimalized – another variation from my usual style which is often to obscure the diagnosis amongst the design (though not always).

In this image it is hard to escape the cross, all its social and religious connotations as well as its association with the disease of tuberculosis. I realised the viewer has to deal with that by bringing their own associations to it. 

By pure serendipity the image contains two Chinese characters 大 女 which mean ‘Big’and ‘Girl’respectively. See if you can pick them up.

Light Play

31 Jan

This post contains a new picture – a mediation on light, the interaction of the X-ray light with visible light. It is composed of a Chest X-ray of a small boy from Papua New Guinea who died from an overwhelming infection with tuberculosis. The base image is from a play of light on a wall thrown from the sun overhead passing through green glass. I have lifted a segment from that and manipulated it to produce a wandering blue and white evanescence passing across the image; evoking the rising of the spirit. A strong pattern of arrow-heads and ladder-like shapes are derived from a Papuan Tapas design, thus linking with the Papuan boy, it is the only “solid” component in the piece.


Chest 43; Light Play

This image reminds me that we do not live for the destination but for the journey itself

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