PDN Photo of the Day

Visualizing the Early Tools of Childbirth

“Parturition,” by Lindsey Beal, is a photographic archive picturing historical obstetric and gynecological tools. When Beal set out to photography the items in various medical libraries, she expected to find gruesome tools. Instead, she found early iterations of implements still used today like forceps and speculums. “Some were created pre-germ theory and used materials such as leather, wood, horn or ivory, ” explains Beal. Others look a lot like, and are constructed of the same materials, as the tools used today.

The history of medicine is fraught with racism and sexism, and full of contradictions and complications. People living in poverty, the enslaved and sex workers were often forced to be the test subjects of new medical instruments. “Conversely,” says Beal, “without these improved tools, many women would have had to deliver unwanted pregnancies or died in childbirth.”

By photographing the instruments with a digital camera in a way that replicates 20th century glass educational slides, Beal intends to connect historical uses and developments with with contemporary tools and practices. “This allows us to examine how women’s reproductive health and medicine evolved, yet still remains the same,” says Beal.

Lindsey Beal is a photo-based artist in Providence, Rhode Island. She teaches at Rhode Island School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art & Design and New Hampshire Institute of Art’s MFA program.

“Parturition” was made with the assistance of the Duke University History of Medicine Travel Grant and would not be possible without the assistance of the librarians and staff at Brown University’s John Hay Library, Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Harvard University’s Countway Library of Medicine and Yale University’s Cushing/Whitney Medical Library.


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