8 C-prints mounted on aluminium, 80x80cm each, and 4 frames with inkjet prints, 50x50cm each , © 2011-12 Paula Muhr

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In the influential historical medical journal "Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpetriere" (1888-1918), founded under the auspice of J.M. Charcot, photography in combination with other visualising techniques, was implemented as a means of seemingly objectively constructing hysteria as an illness.

Hired by Charcot as the first person in history to officially hold the position of the director of photographic services in a hospital, Albert Londe (1858-1917) crucially influenced the early development of medical photography. He experimented with chronophotography, invented new cameras and defined precise parametres under which each body part of hysterical patients stationed at the Salpetriere was to be systematically photographed. Thus, the resulting images acquired the status of medical evidence, mapping the symptoms of the elusive illness onto the patients' bodies.

The black-and-white medical photographs of codified hysterical hand gestures from the "Nouvelle iconographie" were converted into cyanotypes and rephotographed after glittering beads had been placed on them. This intervention destabilises their original function as apparently unambiguous medical evidence of hysteria and translates them into the domain of aesthetic objects, which remain open to multivalent symbolic interpretations.

The images are accompanied by pages culled from a manual for experimental pathosocial studies from the beginning of the 20th century, focusing on descriptions of different instruments that were used for measuring a variety of bodily functions. These instrumets were used by medical practitioners in order to register the degree of deviation from the standardised values, which were at the time deemed as normal. By deleting certain segments of the text, rendered in a dry scientific language, as well as covering parts of the illustrations of the measuring devices, their intended function and the field of application become ambivalent and somewhat enigmatic.