«There is a sort of construction in the vision, from which we are exempt by habit. We guess or foresee, in general, more than we see, and the impressions of the eye are for us signs, and not singular presences, prior to all the arrangements, the summaries, all the abbreviations, the immediate replacements that the early education inculcated us»
Discovered in an inconspicuous wooden box by the Japanese merchant and art collector Akimitsu Natuyama, the 365 photographs of people suffering from congenital and pathological deformations made by the doctor and photography enthusiast Ikkaku Ochi, constitute an extraordinary collection of images. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ochi practiced his profession in Okayama, a prefecture of Shikoku, one of the southern islands of Japan.
Different from contemporary medical photographs, which serve as mere educational material and rarely as sensitive portraits of the sick, the images of Ikkaku Ochi tell a recording full of dignity and respect and although the exposed and diseased parts of the bodies are explicitly documented, none of the images fail to report an attention full of sweetness to the individual.
The photographs collected show the physical manifestations of syphilis in the final stages, elephantiasis of the testicles or sinuses and other medical conditions – conditions today almost completely suppressed by medicines or vaccinations.
Cruel and melancholic, these images seen today have an undeniable elegance and beauty, referring the bodies and souls of an alterity that upsets, but at the same time a deformity, whose formless seems capable of escaping the clear and distinct to leave open possibilities. In front of an image that shows the shapeless, the eye is displaced, its oriented and ordinary vision is put into crisis with the effect of producing no longer the possibility of recognizing a shape, an organization, a Gestalt, but rather asking for an exploration for which it is as necessary to question what has already been taken by the eye as the construction for it of new strategies and alphabets.