Upstate News

September 28, 2004
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate to host noted medical photography exhibit in October

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Images from one of the most important collections of early medical photography will be on display for the public at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Health Sciences Library Oct. 1 through 31. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Library hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. The exhibit opening is part of SUNY Upstate’s Reunion Weekend.

The exhibit comes to Syracuse by way of SUNY Upstate almunus Stanley B. Burns, M.D., Class of 1964, who is one America’s pre-eminent collectors of vintage photography. Based in New York City, Burns and his wife maintain an archive of over 700,000 images dating from about 1839 to 1945. In addition to medical photography, Burns possessess important images on such topics as war, African Americans, Judaica, crime and memorial photography.

Works from the Burns Archive appear in photo exhibitions throughout the world and are frequently sought by movie producers, writers and others trying to authenticate or illustrate various issues. Filmmaker Ken Burns, used war images from the Burns Archive for his Civil War documentary that aired on PBS in the 1990s.

It is these Civil War images that make up the core of the exhibit at SUNY Upstate. “These images highlight the infection, gangrene and disease that were part of the Civil War, ” Burns said. “All of these ailments have since been eradicated thanks to modern medicine.”

The SUNY Upstate exhibition will also showcase images of oncology and respiratory disease, as well as memorial postmortem photos. These photos, which might depict a dead child and his or her parents, would be taken as a way to memorialize the deceased family member.


One such photo that will be part of the SUNY Upstate exhibit, titled “Dr. James Howe, Dead from Cholera, 1849,” (photo at left) is the only known photograph of a physician who sacrificed his life when attempting to fight the 1849 pandemic. The 22-year-old physician had just graduated from medical school. His father took the portrait.

In 1990, Burns published a review of postmortem death photos, titled “Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America.” The book has been honored by the American Photographical Historical Society and the American Medical Writer’s Association. Burns continued his exploration of postmortem photography in “Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement in Memorial Photography American and European Traditions,” published in 2002, which received a favorable review in the Journal of American Medical Association.

For more information on the Burns Archive go to http://www.burnsarchive.com

For more information on the exhibit at SUNY Upstate, call 315-464-4836.

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