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July 21, 2021

30 Intimate Photographs That Capture Everyday Life in French Psychiatric Hospitals in the 1950s

Jean-Philippe Charbonnier (August 28, 1921 – May 28, 2004) was a French photographer whose works typify the humanist impulse in that medium in his homeland of the period after World War II.

In 1954,  Charbonnier documented French psychiatric hospitals, and some of the photographs were published in Réalités in January 1955, in which he employed an objective point of view exposed conditions in a mental hospital that are a valuable document today in gauging the progress of psychiatric treatment (a number of the most powerful images were not published due to the sensitivities of the 1950s).

“I stayed 6 weeks in mental hospitals. The agitator who breaks everything and lives naked in a cell in the soiled straw; the alcoholic on drug treatment, whose vomiting pierces the night and flows materially under his door; women in camisoles, prostrate, desexed and mustachioed who throw themselves to the doctors’ necks. What patience! Bottomless looks, words without follow-up...

“At the White House Psychiatric Hospital, I had seen, as on skid row, a foolish cohort of doddering women, twelve to seventy years old, who came to the bath: smelling terribly. The nurses undressed, bathed, rubbed, rinsed, gave them clean clothes out of the autoclave. After this salutary ceremony, the unfortunate women came back before me, dolled up, all fresh, smiling, heartbreaking: ‘Hello sir, Hello sir, Hello sir, etc …’ But the same smell persisted. It was in them. As if it was not enough for them to be crazy...”































(Photos by Jean-Philippe Charbonnier)




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