Physiognomy of Insanity.

Diamond, Dr. Hugh Welch, FSA, 1809-1886.

London: Samuel Highley, 1853.


Subject: psychiatry.


Gernsheim, Helmut, "Incunabula of British Photographic Literature" number 25:

         This is a series of photographic portraits (albumen prints) taken from life, together with brief medical notes. The prints from collodion negatives measure 21.5 X 16.5 cm. It was published in parts, but no copy has yet been found. Only individual prints are known.

See also: Alison Gernsheim, "Medical photography in the nineteenth century" Part I (April 1961, pp. 84-92) and Part II (July 1961, pp. 147-156); Journal of Medical and Biological Illustration.

See also: Sander L. Gilman, The Face of Madness; NY, Brunner/Mazel 1976.

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A prolific essayist, Hugh W. Diamond wrote these papers as guides for a series of lectures he gave in 1852 during an exhibition of his photographs. These were his first lectures on the physiognomy of insanity as represented by the subjects of his images, about 14 patients from a group of women who were charged to his care at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. There is a published reference to an exhibition he gave at Lord Rosse's soiree that year (Gilman, op. cit.), but it is quite probable that the exhibit was formalized and moved to the Royal Medical-Chirurgical Society. The interest in his work was considerable. Not only was Diamond presenting a breakthrough in the documentation and promulgation of medical knowledge, he was also demystifying the calotype process and making it accessible to the amateur photographer, igniting the middle class mania for the production and acquisition of cartes-de-visite:

A more tangible sign of photography's debt to Diamond came in 1854 when a group of amateurs, among them the physicist Michael Faraday, presented Diamond with a purse of three hundred pounds and a scroll which read:  "The improvements effected by Dr. Diamond have been the result of numerous and costly experiments carried on in the true spirit of scientific inquiry, and explained in the most frank and liberal manner, without the slightest reservation or endeavour to obtain from them any private or personal advantage." — Sander L. Gilman.

The wording of this testimonial hides a subtle barb directed at the great Henry Fox Talbot who invented the calotype process but whose zealous defense of his patent rights staunched innovation and drew the opprobrium of British scientists. By the early 1850's Diamond was introducing British photographers to the wet collodion process and the new albumenized papers from France. It is also likely that he was a contributor to the negotiations between Talbot and Lord Rosse which led to the voiding of the calotype patents. Gilman's excellent monograph does much to correct the obscurity of Diamond's contributions and marks his position as preeminent in that long roster of physician inventors who advanced the art and science of photography.

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