“It looks like the hysterical epilepsy would not exist out of France, and some people could say -and sometimes they have said- that it exist only at La Salpêtrière, as thought I had forged it with the mere power of my will. It could be really marvelous than I could create illnesses by the power of my fantasy. But the truth is that I´m just a photographer, I register what I see”.
Charcout J.M: The Tuesday Lessons. Ediciones del Lunar. Colecciones de Heterohistorias. Jaén, 2003 (p.43)
The Iconographie de La Salpêtrière is one of the first photographic archives in the field of clinical psychiatry.
Under the direction of Jean-Martin Charcot, and financed by the French government, this archive constituted an effort to catalogue the unclassifiable through new photographic-documentary techniques. The realm of the marginal – whatever failed to fit into the rational logic of the modern project – was subject to dissection at La Salpêtriere. I twas systematically measured, documented, and classified. In this operation, however, the use of photography fostered the incorporation of spetacle and, with it, an entire network of complicities between patients and photographers. The spectacle of La Salpêtriere became a variety show at every tuesday session, played out in front of a representative sampling of cultural and scientific elites, through the induction of contortions by hypnosis, epileptic seizures, and fits of hysteria, and the registry and exhibition of cabinets of curiosities, biological rarities, freaks, and other phenomena.
The result is an unprecedented photographic archive, a witness to the colonial era, assembled with the “panoptic” intent of a disciplinar regime, and a systematic documentation of the limits of the human soul. Based on field work with more than 4,000 photographs and thirty-two volumes published between 1875 and 1918, Javier Viver has assembled a new compilation and edition of the iconography of the celebrated Parisian hospital. Beyond its very original clinical interpretation, the archive is presented in a contemporary critical context, open to new readings, associations, and levels of interpretation.