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 

Gallstone.
Gallstone.

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.

Advertisement

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. 

Goiter.
Goiter.

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.  

Gallstone.
Gallstone.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 29 2014 10:00 PM “Everything Must Change in Italy” An interview with Italian Prime Minster Matteo Renzi.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 29 2014 1:52 PM Do Not Fear California’s New Affirmative Consent Law
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 29 2014 12:01 PM This Is Your MOM’s Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.