An axeman writesBMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7084.909a (Published 22 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:909
The reception at the opening of the BMJ's exhibition last week of photographs of 20th century British doctors was a delightful, unpompous, and amusing occasion. I got a great deal of fun out of wandering round and trying to imagine what I would have guessed their occupation to be, if I had not known they were doctors.
Stephen Lock, wind blown and weather beaten on the coast at Aldeburgh, suggested the captain of a trawler who had just made a bumper catch, and Julian Tudor Hart a happy, easy going, member of the crew, without a political thought in his head. In a modern version of Dürer's “Melancolia” Douglas Black (famous for his humour and dry wit) presented such a picture of gloom, that my father (a fellow Scot) would have said, as he did to me if I dared to sulk, “Wha stole your jilly piece, ma wee pet lamb?”
Donald Acheson, probably a judge, wanted to know why. Why what? Anything, and don't mess with me when you answer.John Horder, the kindest, wisest, and most gentle of men, resembled a headmaster for whom lateness at assembly, or a mistake in homework, was a beatable offence. No exceptions. Anthony Grabham, a collector perhaps, was wondering if it would be a bit naff to take his teapot to the next visit of the Antiques Roadshow.Donald Irvine, clearly an actor, with his out of doorsy, square jawed, decisive appearance and faraway look, had been hired, perhaps, as the antismoking lobby's answer to Marlboro Man.George Godber was clearly an aristocrat, famous for his rose garden.
With his wrinkled neck, flabby face, and pursed lips,Irvine Loudon was finally convinced that he was not and never had been the spitting image of Gary Cooper; a bitter blow reinforced when a friend of his, Christopher Martyn, looked at the photograph and said to the man beside him: “That seems a familiar face, but I can't decide whether it is an axeman or an intellectual.” There are five women doctors in the exhibition. Intelligence, kindness, understanding, and absolute integrity shines out of the portraits of every one of them. They look like doctors, and the kind of doctors you would want to consult if you were ill or just anxious.
Nick Sinclair, the photographer, does not, thank God, take flattering photographs, and it was comic to find how many subjects (or their spouses) were less than happy with their portraits. What a vain lot we are when presented with the reality of Burn's “giftie”–”to see ourselves as others see us.” But Nick is a superb photographer, up there in the class of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange.
The National Portrait Gallery shows many wonderful photographs, but few better then Nick's. Never mind who they are, or if you know them. Go and see the exhibition–or buy the book, or both–and look at the portraits for what they are: wonderful examples of photography as fine art.
With Head and Heart and Hand
Nick Sinclair's photographs of 20th century British doctors are at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Lane, London WC2E OHE, for several months. The accompanying book is available from the gallery or the BMJ Bookshop, price £14.95. Proceeds to Age Concern.
Stephen Lock–former editor of the BMJ
Julian Tudor Hart–former general practitioner, south Wales
Douglas Black–former professor of medicine, Manchester
Donald Acheson–former chief medical officer
Anthony Grabham–former surgeon, Kettering
Donald Irvine–president, General Medical Council
George Godber–former chief medical officer