Confronting the Collections: Images of Real People

As our ongoing Hospital Snapshots series has explored, the new technique of photography was quickly adopted by asylum physicians from the 1850s for a variety of purposes. These included for patient identification, to explore the role of physiognomy (facial shape and expression) in understanding diagnoses of mental illness, and to investigate the role of heredity in its onset. The Hering photographs, discussed in the series, are society-style portraits of the mid nineteenth-century, but the Bethlem collections also contain other, later, types of images: institutional ‘mug-shots’ pasted into casebooks, group photographs in the grounds or images taken for scientific research.

All of these photographs show images of real people, who spent periods of their lives undergoing treatment for mental health care. It is not always possible for us to determine whether or not pictures were taken with consent (although there are certainly recorded instances of people opting out of being photographed). Given these considerations, we would like to ask for your thoughts on the way in which these images might (or should not) be displayed in the new Museum of the Mind.

The link below will take you to a short survey, in which you will be asked to look at three different nineteenth-century photographs of patients at Bethlem and record your thoughts and feelings about them. Your suggestions will help to shape the displays in the museum.

Click here to take survey

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