‘She sits all day in the attitude depicted in the photo’: photography and the psychiatric patient in the late nineteenth century

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Abstract

The links between mental state and art in all its various forms and media have long been of interest to historians, critics, artists, patients and doctors. Photographs of patients constitute an extensive but largely unexplored archive that can be used to recover patient experience in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The camera and the photograph became tools to communicate information about mental ill health between doctors, their patients and their colleagues. They were published in textbooks and journals, exhibited, exchanged and pasted into medical case books alongside case notes. But they were also used by patients to communicate their own experiences, identity and sense of self. This article uses published and case book photographs from c. 1885–1910 to examine the networks of communication between different stakeholders and discourses.

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