Care Aesthetics Unlocked: Photographs of Nursing Inside Correctional Unit #1

Katie Adam, Kate Hunc


Background: Photography as a medium of signification has the ability to create images that move beyond what is simply captured by the camera. Rather than being “found”, a photograph is “made”, often in inherently personal and prejudiced ways. Photographs of nurses are no different. Viewing images of nurses through a critical lens is essential to developing a nuanced nursing identity.

Purpose: Our aim is to critically examine James Nachtwey’s series of photos depicting nurses in a Siberian prison experiencing a tuberculosis outbreak in 2008.

Methods: We apply Chinn and Kramer’s elements of aesthetic criticism, including: historical integration; comparative description; interpretations of meaning; and future possibility.

Findings: Nachtwey’s Siberian series is in keeping with his raw style of presenting abject subject matter. The black and white images of masked nurses administering medications through prison bars and preparing injections in bleak, tiled rooms disturb notions of caring central to the profession’s efforts at self-promotion. The series promotes reflection on the complexity of building therapeutic relationships in highly controlled institutional settings and the visibility of caring in one’s own practice.

Learning Objectives: 1) To introduce aesthetics as an entry point to reflection on nursing practice; 2) to reinforce the importance of context in interpretation of nursing images and discussions of practice.


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