UIC Barcelona hosts the 1st International Conference on Visual Narratives of Illness

UIC Barcelona hosted the 1st International Congress on Visual Narratives of Illness on 10 and 11 November. This conference, organised by the research project Visibilising pain: visual narratives of illness and storytelling transmedia (Visibilizando el dolor: narrativas visuales de la enfermedad y storytelling transmedia) (RTI2018-098181-A-I00) and aims to reflect on the ability of images to build narratives around the disease and its role to destigmatise, make visible and offer new approaches that contribute to normalising it. The project is funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033/ and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). A way to make Europe.

Alfonso Méndiz, rector of UIC Barcelona, and Rebeca Pardo, dean of the Faculty of Communication Sciences and conference director, opened the conference by thanking the attendees and speakers for their participation.

The keynote speech was given by Javier Moscoso, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC.). In a speech titled “Things to do with your teeth. Illustrated history of dental disease” Javier Moscoso made a visual and historical comparison of the relationship between teeth and pain and the relationship between teeth and love.

“The study and knowledge of teeth, and their social and community function, goes far beyond what dentists know in any of their varieties. There are also fields related to anthropology, sociology, the history of trade, and many other branches of knowledge that I thought opened up a world worth emphasising,” Moscoso pointed out. 

The professor pointed to the importance of narratives of illness. “I think the topic of this conference is very interesting: The way in which the patient expresses and narrates their illness has a positive or negative effect on the pain that afflicts them. Not only can we improve our understanding of the universe of the humanities, but we can also contribute, to the extent possible, to a way of practising medicine that takes into consideration the patient’s own story,” he added. In 2011, Moscoso published Pain: a Cultural History [Historia cultural del dolor] (Taurus), translated into English and French.  He also is the author of Broken Promises: A Political History of the Passions [Promesas incumplidas. Una historia política de las pasiones] (2017) and The History of the Swing [Historia del columpio] (2021).  

The conference included presentation of papers, lectures and documentary screenings related to visual narratives of illness, with some contributions on mourning and end of life/death. The conference allowed the participants to reflect on the narratives of illness from different perspectives: the body as relic, the photographic portrait of the AIDS epidemic, corporate purpose, mental health, cancer and COVID-19, among others. 

Dr Rebeca Pardo, dean of the Faculty of Communication Sciences and principal investigator of the project Visibilising Pain: Visual Narratives of Illness and Transmedia Storytelling (Visibilizando el dolor: narrativas visuales de la enfermedad y storytelling transmedia) (RTI2018-098181-A-I00) presented her paper titled “From the Patient Image to the Active Look: a Journey through Visual Representations of Illness (De la imagen paciente a la mirada activa: recorrido por las representaciones visuales de la enfermedad),“ in which she journeyed through the past and elaborated on photography as a mechanism to portray the illness. “In social media, images become a virtual mediation and negotiation sites for millions of people around the world. New representations of diversity and beauty in illness serve to empower the patient,” Pardo said.

Montse Morcate, PhD in Fine Arts, artist, photography teacher at the Universitat de Barcelona and researcher presented her paper “Visual Narratives in Times of COVID-19: between the document and creation (Narrativas visuales en tiempos de COVID-19: entre el documento y la creación).” Morcate received a grant from the Victor Grifols i Lucas Foundation for the project “Ethics of Disease, Death and Grief Images in Times of COVID-19 (Ética de las imágenes de la enfermedad, la muerte y el duelo en tiempos del COVID-19) , together with Rebeca Pardo.

The researchers analysed 9,000 images from El Mundo, El Pais and La Vanguardia newspapers published during the pandemic. They noticed that there were no press pictures taken inside hospitals as there were so many issues involved in accessing these areas to take pictures.

Dr Carla Gracia Mercadé, lecturer at UIC Barcelona, presented the paper “The Limits of Biofiction in Photography during COVID-19 (Los límites de la bioficción en la fotografía durante la COVID-19)”, and Dr Alfonso Freire-Sanchez (UAO CEU) and Dr Montserrat Vidal-Mestre (UIC Barcelona) presented the paper  “Narratives of Illness in Videogames: Treating Depression and Anxiety Through Videogame Characters (Narrativas de la enfermedad en los videojuegos: el tratamiento de la depresión y la ansiedad a través de sus personajes).” Dr Patricia Prieto-Blanco (University of Lancaster, UK) present the paper “Visibilising invisible symptoms #LongCovid on Twitter.” 

The screenings included the short film “Four Thirty (Cuatro treinta), which addresses the subject of skin diseases and is supported by Psoriasis Action Association (Acción Psoriasis), and “The Curve (La corba)”, directed by Jorge Luis Marzo and Fèlix Pérez-Hita on the use of graph curves in the representation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anna Escurriola, director of the short film Cuatro treinta and lecturer at UIC Barcelona, assured that thanks to the project “Patients have written me telling me that felt very represented in what happens in the short film.” 

The 1st International Conference on Visual Narratives of Illness provided an x-ray of illness and pain, and also an opportunity to network, learn, and understand a complex reality in order to destigmatise it.