The Portrait Reveals What You Want to See

They took photos of the mad, the deranged and delusional, the hysterical and the depressed. Portrait after portrait, a man under a hood capturing a moment: a person rendered forever as a type. A caricature of sorts for the wealthy and bookish to display at parties. People existing out of time and context, on a print for display.

They could see a family member after they sat for the portrait, as a reward. “It’s for science,” they were told, but it seems as if it was more of a measuring stick. A way to see others as less than yourself. To consign a stranger to a diagnosis inscribed at the bottom of each print. To see them as trapped forever inside the frame. Far away from our comfortable homes and settled routines, people of elevated stations could sleep better knowing the crazies were caged up in some remote hospital or asylum. Some even imagined they were better off and getting the treatment they needed in the hopes they could return to civilized society and contribute like they did.

It was all nonsense and an insult to the humanity that truly sick people still possessed, despite so many wanting them to live in the shadows locked away with quack treatments destroying what was left of their souls. How we treat those most in need is still the truest measure of our own compassion and humanity as a society and we failed back then and we fail now with our attempts to save everyone with technology.

© 2022 Jeff E. Brown. All rights reserved.

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