A Doctor of Photography

Photograph/Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne
Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne was a French medical doctor, who conducted a number of research experiments in electrotherapy and neurology in Paris in the 1850s. His investigations were an intriguing assortment of psychology, neurology, anatomy and art. Guillaume made more than a 100 photographs, and was one of the first doctors to use photography scientifically. His ways of working were unlike those of his peers. He had five volunteers to assist him, and conducted most of his experiments at his apartment in Paris.

Duchenne de Boulogne’s principle subject, as illustrated in the photograph, was a former shoemaker, who suffered from a slight anesthesia. While Duchenne de Boulogne described him as “old and ugly,” he still preferred the man, as his wrinkled face responded well to electric currents during the experiments, and was ideal to perfectly illustrate a variety of facial expressions. “Only photography as truthful as a mirror could attain such desirable perfection,” he said.

The photograph above was part of The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy (1862), which was the first publication to illustrate human expressionss through photographs. It paved the way for further studies in neurology, including the pioneering work by Charles Darwin, called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

Duchenne de Boulogne was greatly influenced by French photographers Félix Nadar and his younger brother Adrien Tournachon. He strongly believed in the power of photography, and wanted to “change both the history of medicine and of photography.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Better Photgraphy.

Tags: May 2013, Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne, Photography Experiments, Paris 1850