If I could see in someone’s eyes joy and satisfaction of being with me.
I recently had a very strange, almost other-worldly, experience. It was the day before I was to fly to London to visit my psychic friend and continue our researches into spirit guidance. I suddenly felt impelled to go to one of my many bookcases to find a particular book. I didn’t know which one—but I instantly sensed it: a very small book, virtually hidden between two large volumes. It was a short history of early photography, a book I’d never read, nor could I even remember having glanced into it. As I took it down, the book seemed to open itself at a particular page—and there was an 1850 still life photograph by a “Dr. Diamond.” Dr. Diamond! I’d never heard of him. Who was he? And what was his relationship to me?
I soon discovered that Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond was a very important figure in early photography, called by another great photographer, Henry Peach Robinson, “the father of photography.” Diamond took it up within three months of Fox Talbot’s announcement of his photographic process. And then later helped his friend, Frederick Scott Archer, to perfect his wet-collodion process. (Incidentally, Archer, a sculptor, was a patient of Diamond’s.) Diamond was a founding member of what was to become the Photographic Society (later the Royal Photographic Society), and its vice-president, secretary and the editor of its journal.
Through the auspices of Michael Faraday, Diamond became a member of the Royal Society. And in 1854, a group of photographic amateurs including Faraday, presented him with a purse of three hundred pounds and a scroll which read: “The improvement effected by Dr. Diamond have been the result of numerous and costly experiments carried out in the true spirit of scientific inquiry, and explained in the most frank and liberal manner, without the slightest reservation or endeavour to obtain from them any private or personal advantage.”
He was a fascinating and important man—doctor and photographer. I’d like to think we are biologically related—but that’s not at all likely: his ancestry is Huguenot (originally the name was Demonte) whereas mine is Eastern European.
But there are other very fascinating similarities between us—as if we were, in some way, spiritually related. For a start, we are both psychiatrists. And, more so, very strongly inclined to mental hospital practice. It is those patients I had so many years ago that I still miss. I’d love to go back to mental hospital work, if only…
And Hugh Welch Diamond spent most of his life in mental hospital practice. His father before him was a “mad-house keeper,” and most of Hugh’s working life was in Springfield Asylum and then later in his own private institution. And, furthermore, his eldest son continued this work. Altogether, “the family connection with the mad-house business spanned ninety years: Diamond was involved for almost sixty-five.”[i] Yes, we both loved the insane, and most of all, loved helping them. We certainly are, in this regard, two spirits as one.
And now—at least for me, and I hope for you—the Diamonds’ story gets really interesting.
Hugh Diamond’s unique contribution to photography—and psychiatry and healing—was that when at Springfield Asylum in the 1850’s he took photographs of his female patients. (He was in charge of the female division of the asylum). He was the first psychiatrist ever to do so: he was the originator of psychiatric photography. I do this routinely now, but regretfully did not when working in the mental hospitals.
It must be remembered that his photographs were taken at the very dawn of enlightened psychiatry. With the freedom from restraint and coercion to the caring and humanity. It was in this new spirit that Diamond photographed his patients.
Why did he photograph them? The main reason he gives is to depict the physiognomy of insanity, a tradition going back at least to Lavater. But there was more, much more—he photographed them as treatment. As I do.
Here is one instance:
I may refer with pleasure to a case in which Photography unquestionably led to the cure. A .D. aged twenty was admitted under my care in August 1854, having been recently discharged uncured from Bethlem Hospital after a year’s residence there—Her delusions consisted in the supposed possession of great wealth, and of an exalted station as a queen. Any occupation was therefore looked upon by her as beneath her dignity. I wished to possess portraits of the several patients who imagined themselves to be Queens and Royal personages, and one of these in a dominant attitude and with a band or ‘diadem’ round the head, stands first in the frame. It was however not without much persuasion that I induced the Queen, A.D., to give me the honour of a sitting—I told her that it was my wish to take portraits of all the Queens under my care, and I will remember the contempt with which she observed ‘Queens indeed! How did they obtain their titles?’—I replied, as she did They imagined them—’No!’ she said sharply, ‘I never imagine such foolish delusions, they are to be pitied, but I was born a Queen.’—Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations.[ii]
As Gilman comments, “Diamond used his photographs in the treatment of the inmates at the Surrey Asylum. In freezing the features of the inmates, the camera was able to present an indelible image of the patients for the patient’s own study.”[iii]
But I believe the treatment through photography went much deeper than that. Consider these poor, terribly anguished sufferers being asked to have their photographs taken by “The Doctor.” And now imagine their new sense of trust and safety when alone with him in his studio. In this setting, the integrative factor within the sufferer could at last be actuated. This, as Louis Cholden stressed, is the very essence of treatment: in a setting of trust the patient can at last find peace. [iv]
In this extra-medical relationship, neither of them knew fear: not the patient for Diamond (and thus for others as him), nor he for the patient who not so long ago would have been held imprisoned in restraint out of the attendants’ fear.
What did Hugh Diamond really see in his patients which caused him to feel safe—and them too? He sensed their Souls. And it was this that he photographed—not just the superficial physiognomy but the manifestation, the revelation, of the Soul within. Thus Diamond wrote, “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 connexion between the visible and the invisible in an important branch of his researches into the Philosophy of the human mind.”
I’ve looked at many thousands of portraits but never seen anywhere near as clearly the Soul of the subject. As “with astonishing directness each person confronts the camera.”[v] I would say that each patient is embraced by the doctor who comforts them through coming to Know their Souls through his lens. “Very few formal photographs retain such a degree of personal sympathy!”[vi] I would call it humanity, for so he must have felt every time he beheld the patient’s Soul through his camera.
Well, I am not Hugh Welch Diamond and yet for years I have taken portraits as I believe he did, going in through the sufferer’s eyes to find his Soul and thus helping him to find it. For it is only through this Recognition, this Enlightenment, that at last his anguish can be alleviated.
Who guided me to look into the insane and Know their Souls? And who guided me to Hugh Diamond’s book? And who guided me to photograph in this therapeutic way?
I like to think that we are both metaphysicians—going beyond the visible to the invisible: the Soul there to be not seen but Known.
* * *
I’ve just examined the hundreds of portraits in the book Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000.[vii]
There are only two that reveal the Soul, both by Hugh Welsh [sic] Diamond of his patients. So many of the others can only be described as repulsive: I want to turn away from them, I am fearful.
Yet his patients, by psychiatric definition the most fearing—and feared—show their Deepest, Truest Self, their Soul, their Buddha-Nature. Such was Diamond’s therapeutic genius. All the others? Merely superficial—all ego-pretend. Where’s their love? Where’s their compassion?
And Hugh Diamond had to first find his Soul, before he could so help his patients. As John Diamond must too. Perhaps with his Guidance I will.
* * *
To my Soul-Brother, Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond
Both of us psychiatrists,
and both loving to work in asylums,
and both loving photography.
And both loving to take portraits of sufferers to heal.
And both of us Diamond.
Who between us—we two Diamonds—ever specifically
photographed to heal?
And was it not you who inspired me to?
[i]Adrienne Burrows & Iwan Schumacher, Portraits of the Insane (London: Quartet Books, 1990), p. 6.
[ii] Sander L. Gilman (ed.), The Face of Madness (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1976), p. 23.
[iii] Ibid, p. 9.
[iv] Louis Cholden, “Observations on Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia” in Progress in Psychotherapy 1956, ed. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and J. L. Moreno (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1956), p. 246.
[v] Portraits of the Insane, p. 49.
[vii] By Robert A. Sobieszek (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).