Pearl Presents Visual Tour of Physiognomy Research

Sharrona Pearl was a speaker at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, October 30, for an illustrated presentation entitled “Diagnosis, Madness: The Photographic Physiognomy of Hugh Welch Diamond.”  Pearl is the author of About Faces: Physiognomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Harvard, 2010) and is working on a book on face transplant surgery.


Can we see ourselves better through the lens of others?  Victorian asylum doctor Hugh Welch Diamond thought so.  An important innovator of early photographic techniques, Diamond used portraits of his patients for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Through photographic physiognomy, he tried to change the nature of asylum practice, using images of his patients to nurture them to health without physical restraints.  Pearl’s talk examined Diamond’s pictures and look discuss just what images of patients tell us about the past, and what they tell us about ourselves.

"NewsWorks," a program on the National Public Radio affiliate WHYY in Philadelphia, aired a preview of Pearl's talk.

Note: The image at left is from the collection of Hugh Welch Diamond.