by Maja A. Ngom

Every sorceress and hysteric ends up being destroyed, and nothing is registered of her but mythical traces.
(H. Cixous & C. Clement)

Salpêtrière appropriates portraits of female patients in the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris who suffered from symptoms of epilepsy and hysteria. The images were commissioned in 1880 by neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and originally published in Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière .


/ The Flash
The photographic flash used by Jean-Martin Charcot’s photographers during his clinical demonstrations in Salpêtrière hospital, granted the release of symptoms of hysteria in his female patients. The paralyzing light would trigger the beginning of performance, in which staging of the mental condition unfolded under the influence of spectators’ pleasure and desire. To reject this immobilising gaze means to return it in the form of a fading trace, by letting the light touch the paper for only a split second.

/ The Echo
The echo reverberates within the space of the darkroom and then transforms in a monotonous voice of a woman engulfed by the thick, dark waters. A flash of light coming in hazy waves steadily erases the traces of the image only to be abruptly salvaged seconds before it is irreversibly lost in the darkroom.

(All images are silver gelatin prints.)