This body of work, consisting of two parts Dispassionate Attitudes and Lunar Women, is an intervention in the medical archive of photographs of female patients at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris taken in the second half of the 19th century. The Hospital, famous at the time for its study on hysteria in women under doctor Charcot, had its own photographic studio where ‘incurable women’ were repeatedly photographed in specific poses and subsequently exposed to seeing and re-enacting aspects of the produced visual material.
In the archival photographs women are captured in dramatic poses – their bodies are twisted, in convulsions or contortions. Given how static their convulsing bodies look in these images and how long it took to expose a photograph at the time it’s clear that the medics must have aided themselves with the use of constraint, props and drugs in the Hospital’s photographic studio.
In Dispassionate Attitudes recognizable features of the female patients are removed by cutting them out by hand and stripping the photographs of sexualized captions (‘ecstasy’, ‘amorous supplication’). The void, empty poses expose the confining role women were meant to perform. They also reveal their resemblance to well-known religious iconography, suggesting that the medical fantasy was deeply rooted in the visual cultural heritage.