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Bones, Books & Bell Jars

Andrea Baldeck’s ’72 love of photography was born from her father’s wish to keep his flower garden in one piece. As a child, Baldeck says she loved picking the beautiful blooms.

“He decided that I should take photographs of his landscaping and keep things in place, so he gave me a Brownie camera when I was eight,” she says.

So began the path that decades later—and with a 20-year career as an internist and anesthesiologist in between—would have Baldeck’s photographs hung in galleries and embassies throughout the world and featured in a variety of publications, including Art Matters, Expedition, and La Cañada Valley Sun. Her books—each featuring a collection of her photos—include The Heart of Haiti; Talismanic; Venice, a Personal View; Touching the Mekong; Closely Observed; Presence Passing; and Himalaya: Land of the Snow Lion.

Through November 14, Baldeck’s latest exhibit, Bones, Books & Bell Jars: Photographs of the Mütter Museum Collection, will be featured at the James W. Palmer III Gallery. The show presents images of preserved anatomical specimens, 19th-century surgical instruments, and antiquated medical texts—all taken at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

Baldeck says she first heard about the museum and the College of Physicians when she was in medical school in Philadelphia. At the time, it was the only place in the U.S. where physicians would gather, share experiences, and learn about the latest developments in medicine. The Mütter Museum, with its historical display cases, harkens back to the days when much of the human body was still a mystery, she says. On a tour of the museum with its curator, Baldeck says she became privy to the collection of items held in storage—many of which offered even more inspiration.

“I started to think about combining these artifacts along with some of the remarkable historic medical books in the library there to create still lifes that would tell the story of medical history in a way that combines both the art and the science of medicine,” she says.

Baldeck says she hopes those who attend the exhibit will appreciate the reality of medicine in the 1800s, when medical advancement and the education of physicians—and the health and lives of future patients—required autopsies and investigation into the workings of the body through the use of corpses.

“These were teaching tools and not meant to be sensational, confrontational images,” she notes. “I would like people to approach the show from the perspective of a 19th-century viewer, as well as a 21st-century viewer.”

As with all of her work, the photographs from Bones, Books & Bell Jars: Photographs of the Mütter Museum Collection are black and white, and analog film is used to capture the images.

“I’ve always been drawn to black and white ever since my dad took me to George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film,” Baldeck says, noting that it abstracts reality and is perceived differently than color photographs. “When you have a black and white image, you’re drawn to the composition, the contrast, the contours, the textures—and in many cases, also to a deeper emotional message.”

The use of film is another tool that brings out a different element in her work, Baldeck says, adding depth and a range of tonality that you can’t get with digital images.

“To me, there’s something unique about an image that’s created, that’s dependent on crystals of silver suspended in emulsion, which is the case with film and the paper on which you print it,” she says.

—Written by Debbie Swartz

—Photos by Andrea Baldeck

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, October 23, 2013