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Treasures from the Rare Book Room: Photography and Medical Books, Part 2

Part 1 of this article appeared in the October issue of the HSLS Update, and gave a brief overview of the history of photography and medical books. Part 2 explores the fascinating ties between art and medicine with a look at photography in the service of medical advertisement.

Falk Library’s historical collection includes a portfolio of 32 reproductions titled Sutures in Ancient Surgery, published circa 1931. The illustrations belong to a larger series of tableaux vivants [living pictures] created by Lejaren à Hiller for the company Davis & Geck, an American manufacturer of surgical sutures. Hiller worked on them between 1927 and 1950. It’s not certain how many prints he created overall, but the original illustrations were donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. Some of the illustrations appeared in Surgery through the Ages, published in 1944; others were issued in portfolios similar to the one in Falk Library; some were reproduced in medical journals; and many adorned walls of hospitals and physicians’ offices across the country.

When Lejaren à Hiller accepted the Davis & Geck order, he had already worked for major companies on their advertising campaigns. He had years of experience as an illustrator and photographer and had time to experiment and perfect new photographic techniques. Hiller used his own studio’s elaborate sets with dramatic lighting and fancy backdrops to stage costumed actors and models in narrative scenes depicting significant events in the history of surgery. He photographed a staged scene, then resized it, retouched it using transparent oil paints of his own formulation, and then re-photographed again to achieve the desired effect. His images communicated a sense of emotion and excitement that appealed to advertisers and earned Hiller the label “creator of American photographic illustration.”

The portfolio is located in the Rare Books Room at Falk Library and can be viewed by contacting the Falk Library Main Desk at 412-648-8866 or e-mail

Those wishing to explore this genre further will be interested in a book from Falk Library’s circulating history of medicine collection, titled Search and Research: A Pictorial Portfolio of Scenes and Characters in the Drama of Medicine and Medical Progress [call number f R131 A131 1939]. This book, published in 1939, provides an example of similar photographic work by Valentino Sarra.

~ Gosia Fort