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photography and the study of mental illness: Information from

21/07/11 10:14 PM

photography and the study of mental illness Oxford Companion to the Photograph:

photography and the study of mental illness The photography of mental illness can be defined as the practice—usually in clinics or similar institutions—of depicting people whose behaviour has been deemed markedly abnormal by their contemporaries. The pictures once served to document case histories, but occasionally also as therapeutic instruments. Both in publications and by themselves they were used as illustrations and as tools of teaching and research. As early as the end of the 18th century there was considerable interest in the precise depiction of external manifestations of mental disorder; and already before the advent of photography several illustrated works on the subject existed, for example by the doctors Jean-Étienne Esquirol in France and Alexander Morison in England. Later, photography played an important role in diagnostics and comparative research—then dominated by the so-called ‘visibility paradigm’: the notion of external symptoms unequivocally indicative of particular illnesses or disturbances. With the abandonment of this in the 20th century, psychiatry's interest in pictures of mental patients diminished. So far, research indicates that photography in mental institutions, like the establishment of psychiatry as a medical specialism, took place earliest in France and Britain. The beginnings of the practice can be dated back to the 1840s: the Frenchman Jules Baillarger was probably one of the first to make portraits of the mentally ill, in 1848. But the best-known early portraits were taken by the British doctor and amateur photographer Hugh W. Diamond. In pose and setting, Diamond's pictures resemble standard contemporary portraiture. However, he regarded his pictures as a means not only of documentation but of therapy. In this his British colleague T. N. Brushfield, and others, followed him. In addition, Diamond's portraits of patients were shown at exhibitions—e.g. at the Photography Society in London—and used as the basis for the lithographs that illustrated the treatise on mental illnesses by the English psychiatrist John Connolly. Interest in depictions of the mentally ill persisted in 19th-century England, although no one equalled Diamond's fame. Charles Darwin used photographs of mental patients for his book Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), both for study purposes and, occasionally, to illustrate his arguments. In France, the subject is particularly associated with the Paris Salpêtrière's celebrated psychiatric department, where Désiré Bourneville and Albert Londe became known for their pictures of male and female ‘hysterics’. However, although these images were intended to substantiate a particular view of the condition, they were hardly an objective clinical record. Rather, they should be seen as complex, staged scenarios of illness that reflected the ideas of the director, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-93). Even if photography of the mentally ill seems to have flourished particularly in England and France, doctors, psychiatrists, and photographers in other countries also made portraits of patients. In the USA as early as 1858 Isaac Newton Kerlin published a book on mentally ill children illustrated with original photographs. In Austria the director of the provincial asylum in Hall/Tyrol, Dr Joseph Stolz (1811-77), had probably been photographing patients since the late 1850s. The pictures were used in 1865 by the Viennese psychiatrist Max Leidesdorf (1816-89) as the basis for illustrations in his textbook on mental illness. With changes in the basic paradigms of psychiatry (and, later, psychology), interest in portraits of mental patients declined markedly. Soon they were no longer accepted as research materials, and their scientific value for diagnosis, comparative studies, or, indeed, therapy evaporated. However, despite the visibility paradigm's abandonment in psychiatry, its role in biology, especially human and racial, remained considerable in the 20th century. Here, the search for external, physiognomical signs of intellectual and psychic deviance from a ‘healthy’ norm played an important and sombre role, particularly in Nazi Germany. In the meantime, early photographs of the mentally ill, like those by Diamond and the Salpêtrière doctors have attracted increasing attention from art and cultural historians, as manifestations of a specific intellectual milieu. Meanwhile, the mentally ill the themselves were attracting interest from documentary photographers, among them Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Lord Snowdon, and Mario Giacomelli. Alexey Brodovitch, himself confined to a mental hospital for a while in the 1960s, recorded the experience with a miniature camera. — Jens Jaeger Bibliography Didi-Huberman, G., Invention de l'hystérie: Charcot et l'iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière (1982). Gilman, S. L., Disease and Representation: Images of Illness from Madness to AIDS (3rd edn. 1994) Bibliography Günthert, A., ‘Klinik des Sehens. Albert Londe, Wegbereiter der medizinischen Fotografie’, Fotogeschichte, 21 (2001)


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