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September 2015

19th Century Dermatologic Atlases in the Early Age of Photography

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York
  • 2Department of Dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(9):969. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.1509

Medical photography is now ubiquitous, particularly among the visually oriented fields like dermatology. While dermatology’s descriptive language allows for clear oral communication, the benefit of a visual guide is inarguable.

Dermatologic atlases originated as hand-drawn or painted illustrations, relying on the skill and interpretation of artists. Photography was not incorporated into medicine until the mid-19th century, soon after Louis Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype in 1839.1 The daguerreotype was the first image process with permanence and was heralded for its fidelity, lifelikeness, and objectivity. It was excitedly applied to medicine, with its first use in 1844 by Alfred Donné, who published 86 daguerreotypes of micrographic images in Cours de Microscopie, a cytology atlas. The first medical portrait of a patient—depicting a woman with a sizeable goiter—followed circa 1847.

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