Poignant, sur­pris­ing and oth­er­worldly, this new photography project by Reiner Riedler shows med­i­cal ma­chin­ery in a fresh light

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Front Page - WORDS BY TOM IRE­LAND

Photographer Reiner Riedler be­came in­ter­ested in med­i­cal equip­ment af­ter find­ing him­self in an in­ten­sive neona­tal care unit, where his crit­i­cally ill new­born son, Vik­tor, was be­ing cared for.

“I came from out­side into a dark room, with all this soft light and beep­ing,” says Riedler, who is based in Vi­enna. “It was such a strong feel­ing of safety – I trusted the ma­chines.”

Six months later he started to pho­to­graph ma­chines that are used to save hu­man lives, ini­tially spend­ing time in op­er­at­ing the­atres. He soon de­cided he was un­com­fort­able with try­ing to pho­to­graph un­con­scious peo­ple and busy doc­tors.

In­stead, he chose to pho­to­graph the tech­nol­ogy it­self, be­gin­ning with com­mon hos­pi­tal equip­ment such as dial­y­sis ma­chines. “Then I started to go to mu­se­ums and archives, and I be­came more in­ter­ested in those that tell a story, or those whose shape is metaphor­i­cal some­how,” says Riedler.


The Torque Con­trolled Hu­manoid Ro­bot, or TORO for short, is used to study walk­ing and bal­ance. Keep­ing a 75kg ma­chine up­right is a huge chal­lenge, but TORO can use its whole body to re­cover bal­ance by, for ex­am­ple, grab­bing onto solid ob­jects or drop­ping to one knee. The aim is to cre­ate a ro­bot that’s com­fort­able in do­mes­tic set­tings, able to climb stairs, step over ob­sta­cles and – we hope – do the dust­ing.


In­cu­ba­tors pro­vide con­trolled warmth, hu­mid­ity and oxy­gen for pre­ma­ture or sick new­borns, and al­low con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing of a baby’s core body tem­per­a­ture. A dou­ble air cur­tain helps main­tain a bal­anced cli­mate in­side the in­cu­ba­tor. The in­cu­ba­tor shown here is not the one that saved his now four-year-old son’s life, but it still pro­vokes strong feel­ings for Riedler. “The ma­chine it­self looks al­most alive in­side,” he says.


The Ger­man Aero­space Cen­tre’s MiroSurge sys­tem is at the cut­ting edge of ‘telesurgery’, where sur­geons ma­nip­u­late ro­botic arms re­motely rather than hold­ing sur­gi­cal im­ple­ments them­selves. The lat­est ma­chines, such as this one, al­low the sur­geon to see a 3D dis­play of the site of the oper­a­tion and ‘feel’ what the ro­botic arms are touch­ing, in real time, via the in­stru­ments at their work­sta­tion. This means a sur­geon could, in the­ory, con­duct an oper­a­tion from any­where in the world.


This is a rear view of the ECCE2 (Em­bod­ied Cog­ni­tion in a Com­pli­antly En­gi­neered Ro­bot), a world-fa­mous bot built at the Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity of Mu­nich. “This was ex­cit­ing be­cause it was part of the Hu­man Brain Project, and they’d built this ro­bot based on how the ac­tual hu­man neu­ral and anatom­i­cal sys­tem works and moves,” says Riedler. The ro­bot has bones, joints, mus­cles and ten­dons, al­low­ing re­searchers to in­ves­ti­gate the brain mech­a­nisms re­spon­si­ble for our own move­ment.


Like the ECCE2, this rather lonely-look­ing ro­bot, known as Roboy, is de­vised to emulate hu­man anatomy and move­ment, with the aim of cre­at­ing ma­chines that can help us with our daily tasks in ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ments. It is de­signed to move and in­ter­act with the phys­i­cal world in the same way as our fleshy hu­man bod­ies, and is part of a grow­ing trend for ‘soft robotics’ – non-rigid ma­chines built from de­formable ma­te­ri­als such as sil­i­cone and rub­ber.


The S5 heart-lung ma­chine com­pletely re­places the func­tion of the heart and lungs dur­ing car­diac surgery, main­tain­ing the cir­cu­la­tion of blood and its oxy­gen con­tent. “The heart-lung ma­chines are the most im­pres­sive,” says Riedler. “They’re re­ally big, with all these screens and pipes. When the ma­chine is in use, the pipes are full of blood, like blood ves­sels.” This par­tic­u­lar model can con­tinue to sup­port the pa­tient for over two hours in the event of a power fail­ure.


This bizarre-look­ing ap­pa­ra­tus is an emer­gency breath­ing hood for in­fants in in­ten­sive care. “This is one of the more staged shots, but is one of my favourites,” says Riedler. “It pro­vides breath­ing as­sis­tance for a baby, and its en­tire head is in this bub­ble. But for me it looks like an as­tro­naut.” The de­vice, which also comes in adult sizes, pro­vides what’s known as ‘con­tin­u­ous pos­i­tive air­way pres­sure’, keep­ing the lungs in­flated dur­ing res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure.


The ‘Alder­son Ra­di­a­tion Ther­apy Phan­tom’ is a life-size sculp­ture for test­ing the ef­fects of ra­dio­ther­apy. The model has ex­actly the same den­sity as a real hu­man body, and the 2.5cm-thick slices can be filled with dif­fer­ent types of ar­ti­fi­cial tis­sue for test­ing pur­poses. When asked why so many of the ma­chines he pho­tographed seem sin­is­ter or eerie, Riedler’s an­swer is sim­ple: “If you open a body it can be ter­ri­fy­ing. The ma­chines re­flect the com­plex­ity and fragility of life.”


This ‘den­tal simulation unit’ is one of a range of de­vices med­i­cal stu­dents use to hone their den­tal surgery skills be­fore be­ing let loose in clin­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. The pa­tient sim­u­la­tors have a full set of teeth, mov­able jaws, la­tex skin, and the same range of move­ment a real hu­man would have. Like so many of the de­vices shot by Riedler, it has an oth­er­worldly qual­ity.


Say hello to these pros­thetic hands, wav­ing from a test sta­tion. Each one is opened and closed 1,000 times be­fore be­ing de­liv­ered for use. The pros­thet­ics re­spond to the tiny elec­tri­cal sig­nals sent from the brain down the nerves of the pa­tient’s arm when they think about mov­ing their hand. “As a photographer you see that sort of thing and just have to shoot it,” says Riedler. “You should see it when they are all mov­ing!”

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