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Weissman Center Series to Continue with
'In Utero: Imaging and Imagining' March 6

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February 28, 2003

Weissman Center Series to Continue with
'In Utero: Imaging and Imagining' March 6

Photo: Rosamond Wolff Purcell

Rosamond Wolff Purcell, Seven Stages of Embryonic Development of the Human Fetus, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1993, inkjet print

How do visual representations of human embryos and fetuses influence our views of reproduction? How do these images shape public debate about when human life begins? How do they affect the science of human reproduction and reproductive technology? Experts from the fields of developmental biology, medical and biological visualization, and art will address these questions and others in a panel discussion titled "In Utero: Imaging and Imagining," set for Thursday, March 6, at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium. Preceding the discussion and in connection with a Mount Holyoke College Art Museum exhibition of her photographs, titled Suspended Animation: Photographs by Rosamond Wolff Purcell, panelist Rosamond Wolff Purcell will give a gallery talk. The talk will be held at
4 pm in the art museum's Hinchcliff Reception Hall.

The panel discussion is part of The Political Embryo: Reconceiving Human Reproduction, a semester-long series that features a wide-ranging discussion of the scientific, ethical, legal, and social issues surrounding new and developing human reproductive technologies. The series is sponsored by the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership and supported by the class of 1958 and the Katherine B. Fitzgerald Lecture Fund.

Lynn Morgan, professor of anthropology, will moderate the panel discussion. A member of the planning committee for the series, Morgan says the idea for the "In Utero" panel emerged from the committee's recognition that "visual representations of embryos and fetuses are having an important impact on the debate. We see them everywhere: magazines, billboards, movies, television." So common are such images, she says, that "we no longer question how they read."

Morgan dates the onset of this proliferation of images to 1965, the year Life magazine published a cover photograph and a sixteen-page photographic spread of an eighteen-week-old fetus floating in amniotic fluid. These images, taken by Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson, were of dead fetal specimens, which is "one of the things that makes them interesting, because that fact was never mentioned in the article and they 'read'—even today—as alive," says Morgan. The publication of these images ushered in what Morgan calls the "contemporary era" of visual representations of human fetuses and embryos.

The history of the visual representation of human embryos and fetuses is one of many areas panelists will address. With this panel, says Morgan, "our intention was to invite a group of panelists who use images of embryos and fetuses as a part of their daily work. We chose people who do not have an explicit political agenda, yet are citizens of this world and are concerned about how the images are going to be used and interpreted."

The Panelists
Bradley Richard Smith is associate professor and director of biomedical visualization at the School of Art and Design and senior associate research scientist in the Department of Radiology at the University of Michigan. Smith's pioneering work in creating the technology to visualize human embryos and to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis of embryos revolutionized the study of developmental biology.

Scott F. Gilbert, Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology at Swarthmore College, teaches developmental genetics, embryology, and the history of biology. He is the author of the best-selling textbook Developmental Biology, now in its seventh edition, and he continues to do research and write in both developmental biology and in the history and philosophy of biology.

Rosamond Wolff Purcell is a photographer and writer whose recent work includes Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters, the award-winning Swift as a Shadow, and with Stephen Jay Gould, Crossing Over: Where Art and Science Meet. Suspended Animation: Photographs by Rosamond Wolff Purcell, an exhibition featuring Purcell's photographs of biological specimens, mostly embryos, from medical and natural history museums, will be on display through March 14 at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. On March 6 at 4:30 pm, Purcell will talk about the exhibition in the museum's Hinchcliff Reception Hall.


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