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The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery Hardcover – October, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Bulfinch Press; First Edition edition (October 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0821223771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821223772
  • Product Dimensions: 11.4 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 16 customer reviews
Most people aren't strong enough to look there, but if you are, buy this book.
Garrett Brown
A book that had been left behind in a gallery my ex girlfriend was working in, it had been given to me since I love the human body.
Keith Drew Photography
Dark, spooky, and amazingly detailed, these photographs are stunningly beautiful.
kim (riothag@juno.com)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Adam Parfrey on December 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is brave, and very well put-together. The work of photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg, whose shots can also be seen in the yearly calendar issued by Philadelphia's Mutter Museum, is brilliant in its lighting and composition.
The subject, as revealed in the subtitle, is invasive surgery. Those who say the book is exploitative since the photographs are disturbing, probably need a Hallmark Card version of truth, and reality.
Invasive surgery invades the body. There are not photographs of Kate Moss, though it might be of Kate Moss later in life after the effects of her smoking finally rear their ugly head. But the photos in The Sacred Heart really come to terms with the ugliness and contradictory beauty of the human body in its most elemental stage.
The introduction is by Richard Selzer, whose other extremely readable books achieve direct paths to the most curious and disturbing aspects of what is seen by the doctor of medicine.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By go2L@pipeline.com on October 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Imagine as a layperson being a witness to 100 major surgeries and you've entered the world of Max Aguilera-Hellweg's incredible book, "The Sacred Heart." A review of this book of surgical photographs in the Los Angeles Times grabbed my attention. "...these images are so visually beautiful that you are drawn into them before you know what you're looking at . . .Most of us have some familiarity with medical photography, and though it's rarely pleasant, it generally has a clinical quality that allows us to distance ourselves from the events depicted. Aguilera-Hellweg upends that tradition as well; drawing a parallel between the invasiveness central to surgery and photography, he leaves the viewer no place to hide and pushes everything front and center." This is the only book I've ever experienced where you think twice about turning the page for fear of what you might see next. Check it out.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There is no doubt in my mind that An Atlas of the Human Heart was a labor of love on the part of Max. The photographs are at once the most reverent and irreverant portrayals of the human body that I have ever seen. I will never quite be able to think of my body the same way again. Max's work is ambitious, inspiring, and challenging. The book gives you a glimpse of a truly sacred place -- the inside of the human body.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
song@SanFrancisco
There is a religiousity to the pictures that can only be seen to appreciate it. M. Aguilera-Hellweg portrays the awe and majesty of the inner physical self w/ such seduction and grace, we are enchanted by otherwise grotesque images of spines, sutures, and exposed craniums. Were it not for the perceptive and humanistic prose and accidentally dramatic lighting of the photos, most would distance themselves from the connotations of morbidity that such images would lend. Instead we are left enraptured by a secret inner world. I felt like a privileged patron, allowed access to a forbidden zone. Morbid curiousity might have been my initial inclinations but it developed into a profound sensibility that we are estranged from our own bodies much of the time. The ambiguity of an open cavity stretched out by latex covered hands in a scene that seems sensually mystifying makes you either question your sense of normalcy or it makes you reevaluate this inner landscape that you and most others revile in most other settings. There is an attempt to place the "soul" within these organs and cavities and the argument is persuasive; however, depending upon your metaphysical outlook (i.e., christian, atheist, mind-body dualist...), you may be open to it or taxed by it but the end result is the same. You are awed by the photos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By kohoutekdriver8 on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I, too heard the NPR interview when this book was released, and he said the most interesting procedure ended up not being in the book because it didn't photograph "well." It was a transurethral prostate resection (performed through a scope inserted into the penis) done on a fully conscious patient under saddle block anesthesia who conversed with him throughout. Dr. (now) Aguilera-Hellweg found that interesting partially because his mother had a saddle block when he was born and he was impressed to see its effect on this man.

Full permission was given by patients or their guardians before publication, and IMO the best (and most graphic) photo was the very last - the AIDS patient whose body was opened for autopsy.

In short, it's a coffee-table book you really wouldn't WANT on your coffee table.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Max's book definitely takes an interesting look on evasive surgeries. Being a medical photographer, I know that images like this taken during surgeries are not a simple task. But the question is whether or not this can be considered medical photography. Upon questioning Max about how long he had to take these pictures in the surgical settings, a straight answer could not be given. Normally a photographer doesn't have a lot of time to take a picture, they are just supposed to get in there, and take the picture, and get out. Obviously these images were planned out much more than that. They were taken with a 4x5 camera, is unheard of in a surgical setting. He does come up with beautiful images, very artistic in nature. Personally I enjoy looking at the book quite often, but I have to say that these images are not scientific, and if you look close enough, there are quite a few images that were digitally enhanced.
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