• search-icon

Inside Surrey County Asylum

A Victorian psychiatrist photographs his patients with haunting results.

In May of 1856, renowned English psychiatrist and photographer Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond delivered an astonishing lecture to the Royal Society of Medicine. His presentation was of a paper he had recently published, entitled “On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity.” It advocated a strange new role for film in the burgeoning field of psychiatric medicine.

By using a camera to capture the pained expressions of his female patients, so Dr. Diamond contended, he could identify and diagnose their mental disorders.

Diamond’s research stemmed from the pseudoscience of physiognomy – the belief that a person’s disposition is embedded in his or her physical appearance, especially the face. Physiognomy has since been dismissed as groundless by science and relegated to the dustbin of junk theories, alongside that kitschy phrenology head paperweight. Nevertheless, it was a popular theory at the time and respected by many within the scientific community, including good doctor Diamond.

Diamond displayed the portraits of his patients at photographic exhibitions, as well, although the shows received mixed reviews. While his attempt to merge psychiatry with photography may have proved unsuccessful, his truly haunting images of sorrow and psychosis endure.

[via National Media Museum]

Courtesy of Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 1

Surrey Country Asylum Patient
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 2

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 3

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 4

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 5

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 6

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 7

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 8

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 9

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Surrey County Asylum, patient 10

Surrey County Asylum
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum

Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond

Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond
  • Photo Credit: Flickr Commons; National Media Museum
Published on 30 Sep 2014

scroll up