A politics of the human through images

by Dr. Amy Hinterberger

Amy Hinterberger in conversation with graphic designer, Maeve Redmond

A series of changes—in biomedicine itself as well as in the scholarship on science and society—signal that it is a crucial time to reconsider the meaning and function of the human in the life sciences. Traditionally, ethical concerns and political protection have focused on the human subject in biomedical research, with ensuing allowances to address animal welfare and human embryos. However, such divisions are now under immense strain and are undergoing substantial revision. We worked with graphic designer Maeve Redmond to illuminate these changes in biomedical research and their social impacts through a series of images designed for the project Biomedical Research and the Politics of the Human:

Amy:  What kind of creative process do you go through as a graphic designer when faced with a new project? Can you tell me a bit about how you approached creating images for this project specifically?

Maeve: Working as a graphic designer, it is a fascinating way to gain insight into other fields of work, and subjects that are new to me. I like to begin the process by researching the themes of a project and gaining an understanding of the subject matter. Ultimately, I am going to create an aesthetic response to the work and so I start collecting images or visual clues. I often like to do this by digging through archives or old magazines and newspapers. For this particular project I was looking for images that would give an ‘atmospheric’ impression of the work involved, so I began with looking for images in the Wellcome collection and the US National Library.

Amy: To me, the images are chimeric in themselves because they are composite images layered together and incorporate different scientific techniques and time periods. How did you think about the images you were making? And, how did you find the images you like working with?

Maeve: So, once I had sourced some images, I experimented with layering them to abstract their content. The idea was to layer images so they would be evocative of the scientific processes involved in your work, but not be too specific in their content. I made the individual images single colour, in blue or red, so that their particular colour profiles were removed, and in the layering somewhat abstracted. Working with two distinctive colours of a similar tone creates an interesting effect when layered together – it is not immediately obvious how to distinguish them. For this project, I was looking for images of objects, tools, relevant equipment or hands working – no people or faces, nothing that is too time-specific either. In addition I was looking at diagrams and line drawings from books, by combining these with the photographs I was able to create layered images that give an impression of the breadth of processes involved in the work.

Amy: When we were putting together a collection of images, I provided you with some from my own fieldwork, as well as images from some of the first publications in botany and zoology that discuss experimental chimerism, such as Hans Winkler’s 1907 article that outlines his first experiments mixing black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) to create experimental chimeras. What is like to combine and overlay much older representations of scientific practice with newer ones?

Maeve: I think working across different time-periods with the images gives them an interesting dimension, and a depth to the range of processes involved and how things have changed over time, with technology and methods of documentation. As I am an outsider to the field I can approach these images for their aesthetics, rather than become overly concerned about their relevance to each other. In that sense they become timeless.

Amy: Thank you so much for creating such evocative and fascinating images for our project. If other people want to know more about your work, where can see they it, or find you?

Maeve: Myself and Rectangle collaborated on the website together, and we are both based on the same street in Glasgow, Scotland, you can find more of our work here: https://maeveredmond.co.uk/ https://rectangle.design/