benjamin print

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Shocking Photographs, Literally.

Scientists experimented with electricity long before its everyday use in the home. 

By the 1840s, electrical tests were conducted by researchers and documented using photography. Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne administered electric shocks to elicit a variety of facial expressions in his subjects.

Duchenne, a medical doctor interested in physiology, experimented with electro-puncture (acupuncture using electric currents). Using photography, he captured patients’ emotions and changing facial expressions caused by a mild electrical shock. 

In 1862 he published his most famous study, Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of Human Physiognomy), illustrated with photographs that he believed recorded the “movement of the soul.”


Other shocking photographs can be found at In Focus: Electric!, on view through August 28, 2016.