Chilling Photos of Illnesses Removed From People’s Bodies 

The Photo Blog
July 9 2014 12:20 PM

Chilling Photos of Illnesses Removed From People’s Bodies 


Maija Tammi

Note that the following images may be disturbing to some readers

Photographer Maija Tammi’s interest in the visual interpretation and reinterpretation of words and ideas was a driving influence behind her series “Removals.”  Started in 2011 as part of a one-year project with the photography collective 11, Tammi ended up working on the project until 2013 with a focus on redefining the idea of illness.

“If you tell someone to draw a telephone, people still draw one with a dial, and not as a cellphone,” she said during a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I started thinking of visual ideas of sickness and how usually people think about dying people … I wanted to change that point of view.”

Instead of focusing on people, however, Tammi decided to instead concentrate on objects that were removed from a person’s body due to illness or necessity.


She contacted a hospital in Finland and asked if she could photograph objects removed after surgery. After dealing with some bureaucracy, she was granted permission but the parameters were tight. Tammi would work in the hospital and wait (usually in a coffee break room for staff) for a phone call from the operating room telling her the item had been removed and would be ready to document. Because certain things, such as cancerous tumors, need to be examined right away, Tammi would typically only have a few minutes to take the shot, either in a corner of the operating room or an adjacent operating room. To light the images, she used the operating lights in the hospital.

Another thing that made the work less complicated was the lack of permission needed from the patient. “The moment the object is removed from the body, it’s the property of the hospital,” Tammi said. 

After a while of shooting items such as gall stones, goiters, breast cancer tumors, and amputations, Tammi contacted a larger hospital in order to begin documenting objects less common, such as brain tumors. 


Maija Tammi

Breast cancer (whole breast removed).
Breast cancer (whole breast removed).

Maija Tammi

Bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer.

Maija Tammi

It all sounds somewhat morbid and perhaps gruesome, but Tammi said from her perspective, having a camera as a barricade between her eye and the object made things much easier. 

“When I’m shooting, I don’t think anything can disgust me,” she said.

That sentiment is often shared by the viewer when looking at her work—at first.“People find them really visually pleasing when they don’t know what’s in the photo,” she said. “They sometimes change their mind when they find out.”

Tammi began studying photojournalism in school and slowly began moving towards a career as a fine art photographer. Removals, which will be published as a book by Kehrer Verlag, titled Leftover/Removals in September, does have roots in documentary photography, but Tammi said her studies in art photography, specifically abject theory, has been the greater influence in the work.  


Maija Tammi

Partial removal of a thyroid gland.
Partial removal of a thyroid gland.

Maija Tammi

“Hair is nice to touch when it’s on someone’s head, but the moment it’s off it becomes something disgusting,” she said. “The same with an amputated leg, when it’s attached it still ok, it’s easier to perceive it, but the moment it crosses the border, when it’s off, it becomes disturbing because we really don’t know how to think about it.”

Spinal cord stenosis; pieces of bone and discus.
Spinal cord stenosis; pieces of bone and discus.

Maija Tammi

Cancer related partial amputation of a hand from the series Removals.
Cancer related partial amputation of a hand.

Maija Tammi

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.



Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.