How Do We Navigate Medical Images and ‘Self?’ Gabriel Peters-Lazaro Art & Literature, Arts & Culture, Medicine, Science & Medicine, Society & Culture Where do you see yourself? And how does the ‘where’ change the ‘how’? These deceptively simple questions about representation and identity formation run throughout my work as a media arts scholar and practitioner. They’ve also surfaced in unique ways during my experiences working on a documentary film with two of my best friends as they navigate the daunting world of assisted reproductive technology. We see ourselves in lots of different ways; I see myself in my mind’s eye, projected into different times and spaces, imaginary and real, past, present and future, sometimes abstractly and dreamlike, sometimes vivid and concrete. I see myself in the mirror and the experience is generally detached and objective, lining up a contact lens, washing my face, checking my appearance. Myself in the mirror or my mind feels intimately and inextricably ‘me’. But as soon as an image of myself becomes stuck in the concrete matter of any number of media—digital images, photographs, film, video etc.—the relationship is complicated. The image feels to be of me, but not ‘me’ exactly. To be sure, these are subjective and personal experiences of image and self, but there is something profoundly human and universal about such relationships. And within a culture dominated by visual media, the images we make and share of ourselves are inevitably influenced and complicated by the wider cultural vernacular. Even our most private inner visions of self are subject to some influence of externally produced images of the types of people with whom we identify. Working with Maya Grobel and her husband Noah Moskin on One More Shot: a film about making modern families, I encountered a type of representation and context that I had not thought about much, even though it triggered memories of formative childhood experiences with medical diagnostic procedures. In Maya and Noah’s quest to have a baby, Maya’s body became the necessary object of intense and repeated scrutiny. Early on in the process, a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) revealed inconclusive images of possibly blocked fallopian tubes. A laparoscopic procedure produced vivid color photographs of her reproductive systems, but did not move her closer to procreative success. Repeated ultrasounds were performed to determine follicle counts and potential eggs at various intervals and to assess the viability of forward movement along varying courses of action. I witnessed most of this with a camera in my hands. I saw how an ultrasound image of Maya’s ovaries and uterus on the multiple screens of the doctor’s exam room (one screen facing the technician, one screen facing Maya) became a site of extreme emotional investment, carrying the portentous weight of hope and disappointment. How the image was at once a sort of focused crystallization of Maya and Noah’s shared quest, deeply wrapped up in their individual identities and their identities as a domestic unit, and also something almost completely separate and apart from the real living breathing thinking talking Maya in the room participating in the event. When I was 12, I had a colonoscopy. I had been sick off and on for three years and nobody could figure out why. There was an unspoken hint in the air that I might be inventing the illness in my own mind, and deep down inside I feared this possibility more than anything. For someone my age and in a weakened state of health, the colonoscopy was not a simple or pleasant event. It required a 3-hour car ride to a pediatric specialist and anesthesia. But I maintained consciousness during most of the procedure, and I can still remember seeing the inside of my body in living color on the video monitors of the exam room. I remember the sense of surreality in knowing that I was seeing me but in a way that the direct, unaided ‘me’ had no reasonable way of ever actually knowing or observing. What made an even greater impression was seeing the inflammation and hearing the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. I felt an overwhelming relief of having a name for my malady, knowing that the malady was not ‘just me’. The images we make or submit to having made of ourselves can be empowering, mundane, expansive, reductive, burdensome, and liberating. Specialized image making and interpretation within the context of medical procedure has the potential to alter our lives in profound ways; determining what actions we may take for our own health and happiness; what will or won’t be paid for by insurance; perhaps how much we may love or loathe our own insides. Though these types of images, image making and interpretation happen in private, institutional spaces, I think we still owe it to ourselves to consider them within the wider spectrum of experiences in which we encounter the profound relationship between how we think of who we are, and how we make and see images of who that person is. If you’d like to support the film, please visit One More Shot’s Indiegogo campaign. Further Reading Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft. Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking Ron Burnett, How Images Think Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman Jose Van Dijck, The Transparent Body: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Imaging Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture Kay K. Cook, “Medical Identity: My DNA/Myself” in Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography, Sidonie Smith, Julia Watson, eds. One More Shot Film Image Credit: Noah Moskin, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro.