An accident cost professional photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg the use of his right arm for a year. Forced to work with a tripod and the larger format of 4-by-5-inch film, he was providentially assigned to photograph a neurosurgeon as she worked. This ultimately gave birth to The Sacred Heart
, a magnificent and utterly disturbing collection of photographs of the human body seen through invasive surgery.
There is nothing like this collection either in the annals of medical photography or the arts. Almost 50 surgical procedures--a liver transplant, a mastectomy, the harvesting of organs after death, a cesarean birth, and others--cause us to look away and immediately look back. Surgeons' hands hover gracefully over gaping wounds, and lighting on gloves, instruments, and bare flesh is both theatrical and holy.
Aguilera-Hellweg's essay integrates the photographs and historic information about early surgical procedures with his own philosophic musings. The Sacred Heart inspires terror, pity, and awe as our gaze lingers on these horrific images.