From Nadine McInnis's Two Hemispheres, published by Brick Books in 2007.
Ten women, long dead, photographed in the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. You could be fooled by their modest dress, Victorian poses, the grey sheet behind them obscuring how they arrived here. Their doctor crouches behind the camera hidden beneath a velvet cloak. He has placed them on chairs, smoothed their hair, asked them to hold still—a docility today attained only by pharmaceuticals. You would never know from the faded salt-on-paper portraits that this asylum was considered modern and humane: a perfect self-contained world with its own gasworks, water tower, laundry and gardens tended by patients rescued from indigence. Even knowing this, you still want to turn away and forget them, the way you focus on a red traffic light when the homeless troll for change between lanes, or cross streets, darting between cars, when twitching men lurch towards you. Let them be faint rings of disturbance trapped in glass. But for you, they become negatives, darkly transparent. Move in more closely, press your face against the museum case, and you’ll see that one is pretty, her dark hair falling into her lap like water. Another does not raise her eyes. One grips arms across her chest, defiant. Her truth cannot be held by this image; across 150 years the betrayal in her gaze burns. Their faces have outlasted the science of physiognomy that created them, studies in objectivity, gradations on a scale used to rank suffering: distress, sorrow, deep sorrow, grief and melancholy, anguish and despair— a perfect and faithful record. And, you wonder, how is one sorrow deeper than another? What is melancholy if not grief? Although the old-fashioned word anguish feels right to you, timeless, lived timelessly. That’s the problem, the never-ending sense of it, just like these women who will sit forever unknown.