Picturing the Asylum

  • Seminar
  • Auto-captioned
Photograph of a tablet on a desk. On screen is a live event with the speaker Katherine Rawling. There is a red telephone icon in the top left-hand corner of the screen. The speaker has shoulder length light brown hair and is wearing a blue top, they are sitting on a sofa. There is a shelf with houseplants on it in the background. Around the tablet is a pot of pens, a notebook and a succulent in a pot.
Exploring Research: Dr Katherine Rawling, Photo: Kathleen Arundell. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

What you’ll do

Join Dr Katherine Rawling as she explores the casebooks of Holloway Sanatorium, a private hospital for “the insane” in Virginia Water, Surrey. The hospital casebooks, held in Wellcome Collection and now fully digitised as part of the mental health archives, are a rich source of information about patient diagnoses, symptoms, treatments and experiences.

They are also filled with hundreds of patient photographs. This talk will use these patient portraits to consider how, why, and to what effect the camera was used in the late-19th-century asylum.

You will learn about the experimental and varied practices of photographing patients, how patient images were used in the casebooks, the role of photography in capturing the practitioner-patient relationship and how we might interpret patient photographs to better understand patient experiences inside a psychiatric institution.

The presentation includes several historical medical photographs of patients.

This event will be hosted through the videoconferencing platform BlueJeans. After booking a ticket, you will receive a confirmation email with joining instructions. You will be able to comment and ask questions live online using the chat function throughout the event, and your microphone and camera will be switched off for the whole session.

About your speaker

Photograph of Dr Katherine Rawling

Dr Katherine Rawling

@KatRawling on Twitter
Academic profile

Dr Katherine Rawling is a lecturer in the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Leeds. Her research on asylum and medical photography appears in ‘Medical Humanities’ (2017) and ‘Social History of Medicine’ (2019). Her work on Holloway Sanatorium will be published in her forthcoming book, ‘Photography in English Asylums, c.1880–1914: The Institutional Eye’ (Palgrave Macmillan).



Need to know

Guaranteed (online)

Booking a ticket guarantees you entry to the online event. You will be given joining instructions in your confirmation email. If you have any access requests or requirements, for example a transcript of the event, email us at or call 020 7611 2222.


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