La Salpetrière – Service Photographique (XIX)

Charcot’s groundbreaking work in medical photography at the Hospital de la Salpêtrière was instrumental in shaping the category of hysteria. Within the first medical photography laboratory, Charcot meticulously documented his patients’ symptoms and manifestations of hysteria, aiming to capture the visual evidence of the disorder’s symptoms such as convulsions and trance-like states, thus providing a tangible representation of hysteria. These photographs significantly contributed to the standardization and codification of hysteria as a distinct medical category.

Medical photography effectively ‘fabricates’ pathology, as the mise en scène of each photograph is purposefully constructed to conform to predetermined medical categories, thereby influencing the perception and understanding of the depicted conditions. In this sense, medical photography operates ad hoc, responding to the needs and objectives of medical discourse and practice.