"Axillary plague bubo, site Barracão", Patient with spontenously suppurating bubo.
The third pandemic of plague (in its bubonic and pneumonic clinical forms) struck the globe between 1894 and 1959. As Yersinia pestis spread from country to country and from continent to continent, it left behind it not only a trail of death and devastation, but also a vast visual archive. It was the first time that plague would reach and establish itself in all inhabited continents. But it was also the first time that any epidemic would be photographed. As plague spread from harbour to harbour, and amongst cities, towns and villages, so did photographs of the pandemic through reproductions in the daily and illustrated press. Rather than forming a homogeneous or linear visual narrative, these photographic documents provided diverse perspectives on the pandemic, which, more often than not, were not simply different from region to region, but in fact conflicting within any single locus of infection. Moreover this photographic production came to establish a new field of vision, what we may call “epidemic photography” which continues to inform the way in which we see, depict and imagine epidemics and their social, economic, and political impact in the age of Global Health.
Reaching the Brazilian port of Santos by November 1899, plague entered Rio de Janeiro by January 1900. Faced with opposition by ship-owners, epidemic control was eventually established by a combination of disinfection, quarantine and rodent control measures under the direction of Oswaldo Cruz. Other areas of Brazil would continue to be affected by plague in the following years, with the disease establishing itself in wild rodents in rural areas by the 1930s. Brazil’s leading epidemiological institution, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz ), played a key role in the study of sylvatic plague and its containment.