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Patients rebuilt: Dr Auguste Rollier's heliotherapeutic portraits, c.1903–1944
  1. Tania Anne Woloshyn1,2
  1. 1Department of Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  2. 2Centre for the History of Medicine, Department of History, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tania Anne Woloshyn, Centre for the History of Medicine, Department of History, University of Warwick, Millburn House, Coventry CV4 7HS, UK; T.Woloshyn{at}warwick.ac.uk

Abstract

This article explores and critically contextualises the photographic production of heliotherapist Auguste Rollier (1874–1954), specifically the ‘patient portraits’ photographed at his Leysin sanatoria over a substantial period of four decades, c.1903–1944. It argues that these photographs, ignored in secondary literature, were particularly persuasive in communicating the natural healing powers of sunlight and through their international dissemination brought Rollier's work professional acclaim and prestige. Always presenting anonymous patients, and most often children, the images produced for Rollier's work interweave aesthetic and medical interests. Whether through the aesthetics of the photograph, of the positioning and appearance of the patient's body, or of the language used to describe these, issues of beauty and harmony were significant preoccupations for Rollier and the dissemination of his heliotherapeutic practice. The article argues that these aesthetic preoccupations drove his work, that the patient's progress and final cure, and thus the therapy's efficacy, were determined by aesthetic criteria—read through the body itself and its photographic representation. This legibility, of the body and its photography, was crucial to articulating the sun's perceived natural ability to improve, heal and even ‘rebuild’ individual patients into socially and physically productive citizens. As such, the article contends, Rollier privileged image over word, conceiving the former as possessing an unequalled ‘eloquence’ to communicate the efficacy and social potential of heliotherapy.

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