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D Is For Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography And The Pseudoscience Of Physiognomy

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For the next step of my alphabetical wander through the National Photography Collection, I have chosen the work of one of the major figures in early British photography who is now best known for his pioneering use of photography as a medical tool and for his haunting portraits of the mentally ill.

Portrait of Dr. Hugh Diamond, 1869, Henry Peach Robinson, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Portrait of Dr. Hugh Diamond, 1869, Henry Peach Robinson, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond was one of the most important figures in early British photography. He made his first photographs in April 1839, just three months after the announcement of photography’s invention. In the 1840s he befriended one of his patients, Frederick Scott Archer and subsequently became one of the first people to use Archer’s collodion process.

Diamond published articles on photography in several journals and, in 1853, became one of the founder members of the Photographic Society. Technically accomplished, he was active as both a landscape and still life photographer. However, he is now remembered primarily for a remarkable series of portraits he took in connection with his work with the mentally ill.

Roman Bridge, Ardoch, Perthshire, 1854, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Roman Bridge, Ardoch, Perthshire, 1854, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

In the 1840s, Diamond studied psychiatry at London’s Bethlem Hospital (from where we get the word ‘bedlam’) and in 1848 he was appointed Superintendent of the Female Department at the Surrey County Asylum. Diamond combined his photographic expertise with his medical training and began to photograph his patients in simple poses against a plain background – poignant echoes of conventional studio portraits of the time.

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

In 1856, Diamond presented a paper to the Royal Society of Medicine, entitled ‘On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity’ and his portraits were reproduced in medical journals. They were also shown in photographic exhibitions where they received mixed reviews. Neither Art nor Science, people were unsure how to respond to them.

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

In 1858, Diamond left his post at the Surrey County Asylum to open a private asylum in Twickenham, which he operated until his death in 1886. He seems to have stopped taking portraits of his patients at this time. What was acceptable in a public institution for the poor was viewed as a breach of propriety for the families of well-off private patients.

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, 1855, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum

As both a doctor and a photographer, Diamond embodied the new humanitarianism and the belief in scientific observation of the Victorian age. Through his portraits he sought to reveal a connection between his patients’ disturbed minds and their physical appearance.

Today, they still reach out to touch us – mute yet eloquent testimony to compassion and suffering. As Diamond wrote:

The photographer needs in many cases no aid from any language of his own, but prefers to listen, with the picture before him, to the silent but telling language of nature.

See our full set of Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond’s portraits of patients on Flickr

Further reading and interesting links

Written by Colin Harding

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  1. Flickr Favourites #1 – the best of The Commons « National Media Museum blog

    […] then we’ve posted a selection of photographs by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, whose work at Surrey Lunatic Asylum resulted in this haunting and poignant series of photographs […]

  2. Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 3 – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 3 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24913 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  3. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24177 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  4. Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 6 – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 6 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24917 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  5. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20198 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  6. Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 10 – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 10 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24912 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

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    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 5 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24910 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  8. Portait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 9 – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 9 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/24909 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  9. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20185 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  10. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20183 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  11. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20184 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  12. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24176 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  13. Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24911 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  14. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20564 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  15. Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20186 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  16. ENSEMA

    Harrowing pictures, yet i find myself intrigued by all of them.

  17. Les photos sont des photos Sympas « Images Portraits

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  18. Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 13 – The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened | The Thuth Is Out There. Find out the Hidden Truth and Be Enlightened

    […] Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 13 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/24915 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  19. Nice Science photos – Top Tech News | Top Tech News

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/2/20185 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  20. H is for Hogg… the daguerreotype that’s one of our greatest treasures | National Media Museum blog

    […] 1840 he entered the medical profession as an apprentice to another photographic pioneer, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond. He was an active collaborator in Diamond’s photographic experiments and in 1843 wrote one of […]

  21. Portait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 9 – Top Tech News | Top Tech News

    […] Portait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 9 Image by National Media Museum Creator: Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond (1808 – 1886) Date: c. 1855 Format: Photograph; salt print from calotype negative Material: Paper Collection: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum Inventory no: 2003-5001/24909 Blog post: D is for Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond… Photography and the pseudoscience of physiognomy […]

  22. Blair Southerden

    Diamond is credited with exhibiting a photograph of Ardaseer Curstezee (sic) at Dundee in 1854. Is there anyway of ascertaining whether this image is extant?

    1. National Media Museum

      Hi Blair

      Please send your enquiry to our collections team – research@nationalmediamuseum.org.uk. They will be happy to help.

      Thanks
      Emma

  23. EQUIPO DE NEUROCIENCIAS

    Reblogged this on IINNUAR Investigación en Neurociencias and commented:
    La fotografía en psiquiatría.

  24. Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond | Lauren Block

    […] Portrait of a patient, Surrey County Asylum, c. 1855http://nationalmediamuseumblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/a-z-photography-collection-hugh-welch-diamon… […]

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