Photography, psychiatry and mental illness

It has been more or less two years and a half since my last post on this site. I have to confess that I got bored in reviewing photobooks. I felt obliged to keep a rythm and thus, the pleasure had gone !

So now, I am back to business, but not anymore with book reviews. I will share thoughts, ideas, photographs and sometime, it will just be a single photo.

I recently acquired a long sought after book about Italian psychiatry experiences, and I remember that the subject of psychiatry and mental illness is something I feel a great interest for. So I decided to dig in my shelves to enlight some books on this topic. There are so many great photographers who have done photographs in those institutions. I don’t mean to be exhaustive.

The first one, as said above, recently acquired, is “Gli esclusi” by Leonardo d’Alessandro, published in 1969 by Il Diaframma. this was in a time of the anti psychiatry reform initiated by Franco Basaglia.


More or less from the same period, in Italy was published a famous book named “Morire di classe”, also published in 1969 with photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin. I don’t have this book, but Contrasto published in 2015 a book with his photos from that period, named “Manicomi, psichiatria e antipsichatria nelle immagini degli anni settanta”.


In the middle of the seventies, French photographer Raymond Depardon met Franco Basaglia in Trieste and started a series in the Venetian hospital of San Clemente. It was first published by the Cente National de la Photopgraphie in 1984. there was a new edition in 2014 by Steidl, under the name of “Manicomio”.


Martin Parr, more known for a different kind of photography did also a series of pictures in an English psychiatric institution, in 1972, in Prestwich. I played a comparison game between Raymond Depardon and Martin Parr works here above. The book was published in the fantastic collection of Café Royal Books in 2018.


I could not do a post like this one without mentionning Diane Arbus work with mentally handicaped people, published under the title “sans titre” in France in 1995 by Editions La Martinière. This work was also done at the end of the sixties, not so long before she commited suicide in 1971.


Legus Förlag published in 1995 “Ingen har sett allt” by Swedish photographer Anders Petersen. In my opinion, I consider this work as one of his strongest, far before Café Lemitz.


I discovered Roland Schneider’s work while studying photography and I was really impressed by its therapeutic dimension. This was a time when I used to work with mentally handicaped people and I was moved by this work. From the collection of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, the book was published by Parkett/Der Alltag in 1988 and this one has always been one of my favorite book !


This book could be considered as the last opus in the anti-psychiatry Italian history. Published this year by 89 Books, it compiles photographs by Mauro d’Agati. The photographs were made in 2001 after that in the mid seventies, the O.P.G. (Ospedale Psichiatrico Giudiziario) model replaced the old criminal asylums.


So, despite, what I said in introduction, I haven’t been that short but I am passionate by this topic, and you may understand why in a future post !



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