From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In 1860, French photographer Nadar (real name Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820 – 1910), took a series of photographs of a hermaphrodite. Possibly done on commission by Armand Trousseau, the nine photographs are possibly the first medical photo-illustrations of a patient with intersex genitalia.
Photography, although developed several decades before, was rarely used for medical documentation until the 1850s. In mid 1850s France, Adrien Tournachon photographed experiments with electrical stimulation of their facial muscles on request of Duchenne de Boulogne.
Several years later, in late 1860, Tournachon's elder brother Nadar took a series of nine photographs of a young intersex person, possibly on commission by Armand Trousseau. This commission is suggested by an undated letter from Trousseau to Nadar, in which the former requests help in the documentation of a subject with a "very strange malady". The subject was to be brought to Nadar by one of Trousseau's friends, a Doctor Dumont-Pallier. Nadar had previously been interested in studying medicine.
The unnamed subject of the series intersex person with a male build and stature, who may have identified as female. The subject had a small, probably hypospadic, penis, rudimentary scrotum, and male pubic hair pattern; the subject also had a retracted or rudimentary clitoral hood and rudimentary vaginal opening. In most photographs the subject covers the face and breasts.
The series consists of nine photographs documenting the subject in various poses and angles. Anna Blume, writing in the "gender queer feminist art journal" LTTR, describes the images as quite different than Nadar's other work; she writes that Nadar, who normally took portraits of notable figures capturing a personality and personage, instead focused on "a body and specifically of the genitals of this body".
- An image showing the subject standing in full length, unclothed except for a pair of stockings and shoes.
- An image showing the subject standing, with the right leg raised. This pose provides a clearer view of the genitalia.
- An image showing the subject laying back, with one arm covering the face. Another person's hand is pulling on the penile tissue.*An image showing the subject in an examination position, with a hand – visible in the uncut photographic plate as belonging to surgeon Jules Germain François Maisonneuve – spreading the vaginal lips.
- An image showing a close-up of the subject's genitalia, with the legs open.
Nadar did not publish the photographs. However, in 1861 he copyrighted them – something he almost never did – and limited them to scientific uses, excluding public display. Doctors Dirk Schultheiss, Thomas R.W. Herrmann, and Udo Jonas, suggest that the photographs are "probably the first medical photo-illustrations of a patient with intersex genitalia" and describe them as a "milestone in the history of sexual medicine".
According to Schultheiss, Herrmann, and Jonas, there is no evidence that the subject received treatment afterwards, something which was suggested in the Trousseau letter. They suggest several possible factors, including legal issues, the subject's refusal, or failed treatment followed by a lack of reporting. Maisonneuve, partially shown in one of the photographs, treated another intersex patient in 1862.
Several photographs are at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. At least one is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York, as a bequest from Robert Shapazian. The MET occasionally puts the works on display with other Nadar works; a 1995 exhibition featured two of the series.
Medical photography continued to develop after the Nadar images were shot, both in France and abroad; for example, in the American Civil War numerous photographers documented wounds and their treatment. In France, several further cases of intersexuality were documented, although there is no evidence that the photographers were aware of Nadar's work. In April 1870, a Monsieur Delacroix presented photographs of an intersex individual at the Société Médicale de Reims. In 1930, German physician Magnus Hirschfeld published a portrait of himself with an intersex individual in his five-volume Geschlechtskunde (Sexology), while Louis Ombrédanne published 25 images of cases he had handled in his 1939 book Les hermaphrodites et la chirurgie (Hermaphrodites and Sugery).