THE ART OF SAVING LIVES
Poignant, surprising and otherworldly, this new photography project by Reiner Riedler shows medical machinery in a fresh light
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.
TWO LEGS GOOD
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.
GROW A BACKBONE
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.
CHANGE OF HEART
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.
SHOW OF HANDST
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!”