Patient, Surrey County Lunatic Asylum

Hugh Welch Diamond British

Not on view

A medical doctor, antiquarian, and collector of prints, Hugh Diamond is a prime example of a gentleman amateur who furthered the development of the new medium of photography. He made his first photograph in April 1839, only three months after Talbot's demonstration of the invention, was instrumental in founding the Photographic Society in 1853, and through publications and informal gatherings taught many photographers, including Henry Peach Robinson, to use both the calotype and the collodion processes.
Following Sir Alexander Morison as the superintendent of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, from 1848 to 1858 Diamond updated--with photographs--his predecessor's atlas of engraved portraits of the patients. Working in the belief that mental states are manifested in the physiognomy and that photographs are objective representations of reality, Diamond described himself as a photographer as one who "catches in a moment the permanent cloud, or the passing storm or sunshine of the soul, and thus enables the metaphysician to witness and trace out the connexion between the visible and the invisible."
This photograph may have been made to identify the patient or, by recording a phase of the disease, to serve the doctor's diagnosis. Because the image is not annotated the viewer may, like the metaphysician, muse on whether the woman's engaging but ambiguous smile and almost cocky pose denote a state of madness, a return to health, or a challenge to society's parameters of sanity.

Patient, Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, Hugh Welch Diamond (British, 1808–1886), Albumen silver print from glass negative

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