“Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,” the poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote.
His focus was the human condition, but he could have been describing medical science. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Jim Gathany’s photographs, now on exhibit at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They show the stuff of nightmares: tiny creatures that feast on human blood and transmit organ-destroying diseases. Common mushrooms that some people find delicious and others find lodged in their sinuses or lungs or brains.
But just like the scientists studying these scourges, who can’t help admiring the deadly organisms they are trying to kill, Gathany captures the strange beauty of living things most people would rather not think about. Disease vectors become jewels; mold looks like a shimmering canvas by Mark Rothko.
Here’s a bit of science made accessible — and enjoyable — to even the most squeamish of humanities majors.