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‘She sits all day in the attitude depicted in the photo’: photography and the psychiatric patient in the late nineteenth century
  1. Katherine D B Rawling
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katherine D B Rawling, Department of History, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, Humanities Building room 449a, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK; k.d.b.rawling{at}


The links between mental state and art in all its various forms and media have long been of interest to historians, critics, artists, patients and doctors. Photographs of patients constitute an extensive but largely unexplored archive that can be used to recover patient experience in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The camera and the photograph became tools to communicate information about mental ill health between doctors, their patients and their colleagues. They were published in textbooks and journals, exhibited, exchanged and pasted into medical case books alongside case notes. But they were also used by patients to communicate their own experiences, identity and sense of self. This article uses published and case book photographs from c. 1885–1910 to examine the networks of communication between different stakeholders and discourses.

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  • An early version of this paper was presented at the MESH symposium on Communicating Mental Health in September 2012 at the University of Birmingham.

  • Twitter Follow Katherine Rawling @KatRawling

  • Funding The research for this paper was funded by AHRC doctoral award number 07/134577 (2007–2010).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.