Friday, October 12, 2001

Trial over morgue photographs nears conclusion

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Closing arguments are scheduled to begin today in the trial of former morgue pathology fellow Dr. Jonathan Tobias and Mount Auburn photographer Thomas Condon.

        Jurors could begin deliberatingtoday.

        During Thursday's testimony, defense character witnesses praised both men.

        Dr. Cecilia Fenoglio-Preiser, head of the University of Cincinnati Medical School's pathology department and laboratory center, said Dr. Tobias has great respect for human tissue and the bodies of the dead.

        “He is extremely highly regarded and his degree of professionalism is of the highest,” Dr. Fenoglio-Preiser testified.

        Dr. Tobias is a resident in UC's pathology program. While holding a one-year fellowship at the Hamilton County morgue, he was accused of helping Mr. Condon gain access to the facilities so the photographer could take unauthorized pictures of corpses.

        The two men each face a dozen charges of gross abuse of a corpse, after authorities seized negatives of bodies posed with objects during a search of Mr. Condon's Walnut Hills studio this year. He took the photos as part of a personal still-photography project, without the permission of family members of the deceased.

        Mr. Condon is accused of taking photos that “treat a corpse in a manner that would outrage reasonable community sensibilities,” authorities say.

        Cal Kowel, a photography professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, told jurors that Mr. Condon's subject matter is not an unorthodox topic in the art world.

        “Historically, from the beginning of photography you've seen representations of corpses,” Mr. Kowel said. “There is a huge amount of imagery related to the body — and especially the dead body.”

        He said that while it is “idiosyncratic,” such a project lets the artist provide a different look at the issue.

        “Our culture is used to looking at catastrophe in the media. But when some of those images end up in the art world, people are upset by it,” he said.


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