A Sequential Record of Madness

Photograph/Albert Londe Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Albert Londe Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published in November 2014.

Since the ancient times till about the early 20th century, did you know that hysteria was labelled as a disorder that only affected women? In the second half of the 19th century, the disorder spread across Europe and the United States. During this time, Jean-Martin Charcot, also the father of modern neurology, was studying hysteria at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. In 1878, to aid him in his study, Charcot hired Albert Londe, a photographer and medical researcher who was also a pioneer in X-ray photography. He was going to help Charcot in photographing the epileptic-like seizures that his patients suffered from.

In 1882, Londe developed a camera with nine lenses to record the muscular and physical movements of patients with the help of the chronophotography technique. The camera’s shutters were triggered by electromagnetic energy, and along with the use of a metronome, a device that allowed you to record beats per minute, he was able to time the release of the shutters in a sequence. In 1891, he developed a similar camera, but this had 12 lenses.

His camera was also used to study muscle movement in subjects like tightrope performers and blacksmiths, and also included the study of movement in animals, ocean waves and even ballistics. The sequence of 12 pictures could be created for durations from 1/10sec to several seconds. In the two decades that Londe spent at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, he rose to the point of becoming the most important scientific photographer of his time.

Tags: photographer, did you know, movement, Paris, Europe, United States, Hysteria, Jean Martin Charcot, Neurology, Albert Londe, X-ray Photography, Epilepsy, Chronophotography, Electromagnetic Energy, Features