Jean-Martin Charcot photographed his “hysterical” patients at the Salpêtrière, a Parisian lunatic asylum. Charcot believed that hysterics adopted characteristic poses, and that if he could catalog these poses, he could make sense of the disease. Augustine, the subject of this photograph, was Charcot's star patient. Charcot published many photos like this one in the Nouvelle Iconographie de la Salpêtrière.
In May 1856 Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond presented a paper to the Photographic Society of London outlining his view that photography was useful in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. He felt that by studying the faces of patients, physicians could identify and diagnose mental complaints.