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Outside the Lab Training and education

Pathology in (Public) Pictures

Pictures often say more than words ever can: a well designed cover can twist the arm of a potential book buyer; an intriguing photo can make you read an article you really didn’t want or need to; and clever visual propaganda can change your worldview.

This issue is, we can’t use most of them. Copyright law has come down on the head of the internet like a giant hammer, and infringers – academic or otherwise – may find themselves with a large bump on the noggin’, little cartoon birds fluttering around their head, and a cease-and-desist notice. Even non-commercial use of copyrighted material runs the risk of legal hot water.

So, what can the artistically challenged among us do? One option is to rid your projects of images altogether. Another is to trawl the realm of public domain and creative commons for freely available images – a task that I’ve set myself to show just how many resources are out there. Sit back, relax, and get ready to hit “save,” as we run through a short collection of public pathology images. 

Charcoal drawing of matches representing the idea that staying home stops the propagation of the virus by Soledad Miranda-Rottmann / CC BY

This is the image that sparked this whole list. Some late night searching for artistic depictions of infectious disease led me to discover Soledad Miranda-Rottmann’s work on Wikimedia Commons. The description reads: “Charcol [sic] drawing of matches representing the idea that staying home stops the propagation of the virus.” It can’t go unsaid that this image was uploaded in March 2020 – a powerful reminder of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, the illustration is so well executed in its metaphor, it could be used for countless forms of infectious disease.

Pathologists Looking into Microscopes by Linda Bartlett (National Cancer Institute) / CC BY

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are a great resource for public domain images, and this one of a pathologist and surgeon peering down a microscope is no different.

Microscope by Unknown photographer (National Cancer Institute) / CC BY

Staying on the topic of NIH, this photo is the work of the National Cancer Institute, making it public domain in the US. This particular image gives us a little taste of female representation in science – but do you know what year this is from? We’d love to know: [email protected]

A researcher works until late in her laboratory by axventura / CC BY

Another example of female representation in science, albeit with more contemporary flair. According to the description, the scientist in the photograph is Mileidys Perez, busy at work at the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Research in Spain.

Royal Liverpool University Hospital: a pathologist cutting open a body in the mortuary. Drawing by Julia Midgley, 1998. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Source: Wellcome Collection.

This illustration comes courtesy of Wellcome Images; the artist is Julia Midgley. It depicts a pathologist at Royal Liverpool University Hospital performing an autopsy in an impressionist style. It’s rare to see such a light aesthetic used for forensic pathology, making this particularly unique.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a famous pathologist. Reproduction of by Wellcome Images / CC BY

Historical images are a treasure trove when it comes to the public domain. As many of the original copyright holders have since passed, the vast majority of older works are freely available to use for any purpose. One such image is this illustration of Sir Bernard Spilsbury – a famed British pathologist who worked on high-profile criminal cases. This drawing is from the satire magazine, Punch, hence the ironic poem at the bottom.

Do you have a source of copyright free images that you’re willing to share? Drop us a line or add a comment and we’ll update this page with more resources as and when we can!

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About the Author
George Francis Lee

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

Interested in how disease interacts with our world. Writing stories covering subjects like politics, society, and climate change.

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