In its earliest decades x-ray technology seems to have been regarded as a black art. This is the case in The Magic Mountain. Seven years and seven hundred pages that revolve around protagonist Hans Castorp’s frequent but completely unhelpful diagnostic exams at a Swiss sanatorium. His first x-ray is a big deal. This would have been some time between 1909 and 1912.
Hans fixates on the beautiful and enigmatic Clavdia Chauchat, who is also there to treat an ambiguous condition. Her x-ray becomes his fetish object:
In pallid haste he sought his loggia, thence to get a last glimpse of the sleigh as it went jingling down the drive toward the Dorf. Then he flung himself into his chair, and drew out his keepsake, his treasure, that consisted, this time, not of a few reddish-brown shavings, but a thin glass plate, which must be held toward the light to see anything on it. It was Clavdia’s x-ray portrait, showing not her face, but the delicate bony structure of the upper half of her body, and the organs of the thoracic cavity, surrounded by the pale, ghostlike envelope of flesh. How often had he looked at it, how often pressed it to his lips…
It’s worth noting that he doesn’t talk to Clavdia for the first few hundred pages. The transparent image compounds the opacity.
And this (from this book) is about Henry James:
For James, the “devouring publicity of life” was inseparable from a host of modern technologies that threatened to expose to common view all that belonged to the private person. These ranged from the innocuous-seeming postcard, which casually divulged a writer’s secrets to anyone who could read, to the formidable X-ray, which sparked fears that “walls could no longer shield inhabitants from [its] piercing power” and that “the era of privacy was at an end.”
100+ years ago. It makes sense that x-rays would captivate and freak out so many. Who could have known their limits?
As a teenager I learned how to take them. I also learned how to develop film in a darkroom. It’s been a long time since I’ve done either, and it only recently occurred to me that x-ray imaging must now be digital.
I don’t have an editorial angle here.
I really love darkrooms. If I’m lucky I’ll get a chance to develop analog film again. It’d be fun for the process as much as the outcome.