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Seminar: Dr Beatriz Pichel (de Montfort University, Leicester) Photographing the Emotional Body: Practices of Psychology and Theatre at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century in France

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building

Seminar with Dr Beatriz Pichel, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Medical Humanities at the Photographic History Research Centre, de Montfort University, Leicester.

Refreshments and informal discussion. All are welcome.


In 1891, the photographer of La Salpêtrière Albert Londe recorded the experiments that Georges Guinon and Sophie Woltke carried out on the face of hysterical women under hypnosis. In line with other experiments, Guinon and Woltke aimed to test the influence of different sensorial excitations over gestures and facial expressions. Four years later, Londe collaborated with Paul Richer in the production of chronophotographic series on the physiology of movement. Three of these series portrayed the “expressive gait”, that is, the external manifestations of the passions in the moving muscles. Also during these years, Londe started taking photographs of actors rehearsing and on stage. Most of the times, the pictures were part of his experiments with artificial lighting in indoor theatres. His aim was to seize, in poor light conditions, the natural gestures of actors –a real challenge at the time.

This presentation will revolve around these photographs, examining how different photographic practices in the sciences and the popular arts shaped the expression of emotions. As many works have pointed out, the body gained relevance in both the sciences and the spectacle arts, and thereby gestures and expressions became objects of scientific and cultural inquiry. These emotional expressions were often documented in photographs, but this aspect has been overlooked by most of the scholarship.

Following recent research in photographic history, this presentation will examine the complex relations between images, objects and performances generated in the abovementioned photographic acts. I argue here that, at the turn of the nineteenth century, photography served to multiple purposes beyond the mere representation of bodies. Besides the images it provided, the repetitive performances in front of the camera, in which gestures had to be enacted, created a repertoire or emotional expressions and helped facilitate the understanding of psychological ideas on the bodily roots of gestures.

earlyphotograph of female mental patients

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