The English psychologist Hugh Welch Diamond started to take pictures the patients of the Surrey County Hospital in 1856, firm supported of the theories of physiognomy, for which it was believed to be possible to find, diagnose and treat the disorders of the mind by thoroughly observe their face features. Cesare Lombroso was one of the main exponents believing in such theories. It is today clear that such beliefs were  wrong, but in mid 800’s the revolution brought by the camere carried with it numerous news, in several fields.

However the assuredness to be able to somewhat “see” the disease through a lens was not only of Mr. Diamond. At the hospital Salpêtriére outside Paris, the doctors Guillaume Duchenne, Paul Régnard and Désiré Magloire Bourneville, amongst others, started taking pictures of the psychopathic patients with pretty much the same intent in mind. Duchenne photographed a series of images about a Parisian cobbler with Bell’s palsy. To capture his emotions, Duchenne attached some electrodes on the face of the patient to provoke some muscular response.

The sacrifice of the cobbler was not entirely vane. Duchenne was able to determine how the emotional manifestation were activating specific muscles. If a person was smiling without using specific muscles, that very smile was fake or it could indicate a neurological disorder.

Régnard and Bourneville were interested in hysteria. The chief doctor of the Salpêtriére, Jean Martin Charcot, had deeply reformed the Institute and had made two discoveries which had revolutionised the treatment of hysteria. The news was supposed to transform the hospital from prison to a place where to receive adequate treatments. The idea of the time was that the people with some issues could be dropped in a place away from sight and society, but it was progressively abandoned. Salpêtriére managed to use the yards outside, storehouse and workplace for the patients. Some reporters of the time described the hospital during the time of Charcot as a city on its own, and in 1880 it would appear even on the tourist leaflets. The main discovery was that hysteria could be consequence of a trauma therefore not linked to the uterus or even worse being contagious, as they had believed.

Another fundamental discovery was that it was not an exclusively female issue, but evenmen might have it

In 1882 Albert Londe arrived to the hospital to work as a chemist. His job was the beginning of a new era in the relationship between photography and psychiatry. Londe did not believe in the theories where the film could enter the mind of a patient. He was mainly interested to the physical manifestations of them. Charcot had noticed that hysteria could show up in a variety of methods, which could be hit both by spasms  and catatonic acts. The task given to Londe was to capture with his camera a variety of those manifestations, trying to demonstrate that they were linked to neurological disfunctions. To record with accuracy, Londe needed to register them by using chronography, pictures in a timecode, in order to be able to compare the different contraptions and contortions.

In a certain way even the work of Londe was not successful:

From his pictures there was nothing which could help giving insights on a diagnosis

His was however a clinical approach to photography, and the comprehension that the camera was limited in its applications. The registration of the movement became important in the diagnosis, at least for reporting the seriousness of the attacks.

The pictures in this collection are simple photographs which allow to identify the patient in the medical records, but the pictures show in addiction a window to the mind of a psychiatric patient at the end of the 19th century. Most of those people was visibly ill, and their smiles are not supposed to be seen as signs of happiness but instead of discomfort. Some of those suffer from “dementia paralytica”, euphemism indicating “General Paresis”. As for “idiocy” was a mix of senility, melancholy and depression.

In the decades following the snaps of these pictures, the psychiatrists, also known as neurologists or alienists, had an advanced knowledge of the mental illness, somehow. Besides the work of Charcot, the classification of the diseases had become more refined, so that schizophrenics were differentiated from the epileptics or hysterics. In the same period Freud was studying at the Salpêtriére while developing his own ideas about hysteria.

Below: Dementia Paralytica:

Below: unknown pathology

Below: Dementia Paralytica

Below: unknown pathology

Below:  Paranoia

Below: unknown pathology

Below: Idiocy

Below: unknown pathology

Below: Mania

Below: Mania

Below: Mania

Below: Melancolia

Below: Dementia Paralytica

Below: Epilepsy

Avatar
Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

Vanilla Magazine - History, Culture, Mistery and Legends