Book Review: Photo Rx: Pharmacy in Photography Since 1850 by Deborah Goodman Davis, David Campany, & Shawn Waldron
By Miabelle Salzano
What began as a collection of artwork to line the hallways of Pharmascience, a pharmaceutical company in Montreal, the collection displayed in Photo Rx consists of 220 works spanning 150 years under the theme “pharmacy.” Photo Rx makes a commentary on photography as a whole, deeming photography the junction between art, science, and commerce. In the essay, David Campany writes, “There is something essentially wild and uncontainable about photography. Its meanings can never be fully predicted or harnessed.” Photography is the art form responsible for, capturing moments that would otherwise be overlooked. Pharmacies have been in the backdrop of photography, as well as everyday life, for years and are often ignored for the very reasons we may avoid visiting them: fear or embarrassment.
Many of the photographs purchased for this project are street photographs displaying packed, over-stimulated frames of with large, colorful signs competing for attention. Signs indicating pharmacies often go unrecognized, just like the pills they dispense, because of how normalized both have become. A neon sign indicating “Drugs” on every street corner or a fistfull of pills each morning with breakfast become as subliminal as advertising and pass through our knowledge undetected. Given that the nature of pharmaceuticals is to remain inconspicuous, it is ironic that drugs, and the stores that distribute them, are depicted in such a flashy manner.
Photo Rx unites science and art beyond photography as the medium. The collection also includes a silkscreen of a waterfall utilizing the colors from crushed Adderall, Diflucan, chewable aspirin, and kava kava pills, an enthralling print of the patterns of the bacteria penicillin, and various portraits of influential scientists in the field. In viewing these two things, often thought of as opposites, in unison, one can hopefully begin to view other issues the same way. With Photo Rx, curator Deborah Goodman Davis has not only created a body of work representing the conjunction between the arts and sciences, but one that leads to a greater social change.
Order a copy of Photo Rx: Pharmacy in Photography Since 1950 here.