Think of alternative medicine, and you probably imagine acupuncture needles, the essential oils of aromatherapy, maybe even crystals with mysterious powers. But none of those things caught Sabine Rovers’ eye during a visit to a homeopathic doctor in the Netherlands. Instead, she found herself drawn to the geeky gear crammed into every corner. “It felt like I stepped onto a film set with lots of sci-fi apparatuses I didn’t know anything about,” she says.
Rovers explores this surprising tech in Natural Healing. At first glance, her sun-drenched photos appear to show just another doctor’s office, but a closer look reveals equipment that some believe measures the body’s energy or detects sickness through the iris of the eye. “I’m not a scientist, and I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,” she says. “But I think it’s fascinating.”
Some 1 million people in the Netherlands—about 6 percent of the population—seek treatment through alternative medicine each year. Such treatments run the gamut from acupuncture to prayer healing. “Some people who think a doctor can’t help them or who don’t believe in the pharmaceutical industry might go to [an alternative medicine practioner], but most people are skeptical,” Rovers says.
Rovers has eczema, and has over the years seen several traditional doctors who prescribed many different remedies. Nothing worked, and a friend suggested she try a naturopathic doctor in the city of Haarlem. She visited the doctor in January, and was promptly hooked up to a Bicom 2000, a machine that uses electrodes to supposedly read “frequency patterns” in the body and correct the irregular patterns created by toxins. The doctor poked her hands and feet with a wand-like probe and prescribed a cocktail of herbs. After three visits she still had eczema, so she stopped treatment and started photographing. “I wanted to capture my first fascination that I had when I actually started going there,” she says.
She spent four afternoons photographing machinery covered with buttons and knobs, curious eye charts, and mysterious vials. Later, she bought colorful healing crystals and photographed in her studio, contrasting the sort of objects she expected to find at the homeopathic office.
None of it has any standing in modern science, and several scientists dismiss machines like the Bicom 2000 as quackery. The German company behind it admits its machine “is not the subject of scientific research and has not yet been recognized.” But Rovers painstakingly avoids choosing sides, and instead focuses on all the strange dials and screens. It’s not crystals, but it’s still pretty far out.