Photography and cinematography before 1914: The neurosciences discover multimedia

Geneviève AUBERT
Universitairé Catholique de Louvain; Department of Neurology, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, Bruxelles, Belgium


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the introduction of the experimental method and of the anatomo-clinical approach brought about a revolution in biomedical sciences. Observation, measure and experimentation called for new tools. The birth of photography was in line with these technological developments and with the advances in chemistry and optics. The objectivity of the photographic document held the scientific community spellbound. Photographic pictures were multiplied, distributed, projected at large gatherings.

Microphotography was one of the first scientific applications of the new technique. Microscopists such as Schwann, Cajal or Van Gehuchten were deeply interested in photography. However their use of this medium in their histological practice was very limited.

Clinical applications of photography quickly developed with the advent of new rapid emulsions. Physicians not only tried to highlight neurological signs but also attempted to explore their patient's mind. Neuroanatomical and neurophysiological studies were the topics of the first medical books illustrated with photography.

Study of movement and gait, made by a French physician, the physiologist E.J. Marey, and an English-American photographer, E.J. Muybridge, directly led to the development of cinematography. This new medium would show the human body in its physiological perfection as well as in its pathological clumsiness. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a few pioneers such as Van Gehuchten in Europe and Weisenburg in America would assemble the first collections of motion pictures of neurological patients.


Session VIII -- Frames of Viewing: Photography and Cinematography in Neuroscience History
Tuesday, 4 June 2002, 9:00 am - 12:30 pm

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA