Hugh Welch Diamond was an early British psychiatrist and photographer who made a major contribution to the craft of psychiatric photography. Diamond was fascinated by the possible use of photography in the treatment of mental disorders; some of his many calotypes depicting the expressions of people suffering from mental disorders are particularly moving. These were used not only for recording purposes but also, he claimed in the treatment of patients – although there was little evidence of success. All photos by: National Media Museum
These eerie photos show the female patients from Surrey County Asylum in England where Dr.Hugh Welch Diamond worked as a psychiatrist where he remained until 1858.
Guided by the pseudo-science of physiognomy, in which the expression of the face is believed to be the mirror of the soul, Diamond claimed that through analyzing the faces of the patients, physicians could distinguish the specific mental state. Some of the faces of the patients were seen to represent types of illness such as delusional paranoia and melancholia.
Perhaps it is for his attempts to popularize photography and to lessen its mystique that Diamond is best remembered. He wrote many articles and was a popular lecturer, and he also sought to encourage younger photographers. Among the latter was Henry Peach Robinson, who was later to refer to Diamond as a “father figure” of photography.
“The Photographer 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 visible and the invisible in one important branch of his researches into the Philosophy of the human mind”. as explained in an 1856 paper titled ‘On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomy and Mental Phenomena of Insanity’
Recognition for his encouragement and for his willingness to share his knowledge came in 1855, in the form of a testimonial amounting to £300 for services to photography; among those who subscribed were such people as Delamotte, Fenton and George Shadbolt. In 1867, the Photographic Society awarded its Medal in recognition of “his long and successful labours as one of the principal pioneers of the photographic art and of his continuing endeavours for its advancement.” The following year, at his own initiative, he relinquished any further salary as Secretary of the Society and became its Hon. Secretary.