In the second half of the 19th century an epidemic of hysteria swept across Europe and America. Women in particular were struck down with paralysis, they could not find the energy to get out of bed or they complained of obstructions in their throats. At Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, Jean-Martin Charcot, a former student of Duchenne’s, set about finding an explanation for the condition. He had two major breakthroughs. One was that the condition was linked to some trauma in the past, the other was that men also suffered from it. His student, Sigmund Freud, would take his researches further.

In 1878 chemist Albert Londe was hired as the medical photographer at Salpêtrière and began working closely with Charcot. One of their projects was to photograph patients undergoing hysterical seizures, a question being whether there was a link between the convulsions and the facial expression. To photograph the cycle of a seizure, Londe invented a chronophotographic camera. The first model had nine lenses, a later one twelve and a current activated by a metronome triggered both. With these cameras he was able to record the seizures years before motion pictures arrived on the scene. In the end, Charcot decided photography wasn’t helping him get any closer to a solution and stopped using it. Londe would later get credit as one of the pioneers of cinematography.

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