A holistic approach to Henry Peach Robinson’s ‘Fading Away’ for a medical humanities class
Keywords:Empathy, Fading away, Illness narrative, Holistic approach, Henry Peach Robinson, Medical humanities
Henry Peach Robinson’s “Fading away” can be interpreted either through a reductionist approach or a holistic approach. He perfected this fictional photograph through five negatives to create an anecdote and change attitudes towards tuberculosis. While there are many interpretations of this piece of art from a reductionistic approach – literary, artistic, humanistic, or illness-narrative – there are hardly any from a holistic perspective integrating all these angles. When used during a medical humanities course, the photograph provoked students to think beyond the purely artistic and the purely medical aspects of disease. Some of the messages that medical students took home were: ‘grief could be experienced by anyone’; ‘love expands into diverse manifestations during times of sadness’; ‘we must empathize with others and what they go through’. This paper reports on our attempt to adopt a holistic approach to analyze the photograph from Robinson’s perspective and with respect to modern medicine.
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