Portrait of a patient from Surrey County Asylum, no. 6

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


In May 1856 Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, a physician at the Surrey County Asylum and Secretary to the Photographic Society of London, presented a paper to the Society called 'On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomy and Mental Phenomena of Insanity'.


Diamond stated that photography was invaluable in the treatment of mental illness. He proposed that by studying the faces of patients, physicians could identify and diagnose mental complaints. These beliefs were rooted in the pseudoscience of physiognomy, where the face was seen as the mirror of the soul. For Diamond, the faces of the patients represented 'types' of mental illness such as melancholia and delusional paranoia.


“...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...”

Dr. H. W. Diamond - ' On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomy and Mental Phenomena of Insanity', The Photographic Journal, July, 1856.




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  • Jack Falstaff 3y

    Dr Diamond had the best motives and can surely be forgiven for recording what would otherwise be unforgivably intrusive - even exploitive - images. As it is he left behind a fascinating, sadly poignant record of anonymous patients that contrasts starkly with the commercial studio portraits of the period. One wonders who committed these unfortunate people and why, for the definition of true insanity, like its treatment, was (and possibly still is) uncertain... Like pornography, it defies accurate definition, though most people will say that they know it when they see it.
  • Ruby Lace PRO 3y

    How tragically others 'use' people to further their own career and do not 'give a stuff' about the consequences of their actions. Nothing has really changed in the progress of time and such so called 'progressives' will use and abuse whom ever to advance themselves beyond humanity. Dr. Diamond should take a good hard look at himself and question his motives ....... if he dare.
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Taken circa 1855
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