Els Kavelaar

1935 - 2004

Psychiatrist Els Kavelaar proved that photography can be used as a tool to make diagnoses. She had her clients pose in front of the camera and asked searching, personal questions. Using a motor drive, she made countless photos for psychiatric evaluation.

MOVED – The phototherapist Els Kavelaar


In the mid-sixties, Els Kavelaar developed the idea to use photography for making diagnoses within psychiatry. She was convinced that the democratic, objective nature of photographs could be transformed into an equally objective analysis of emotional problems and psychological deviations. The photo sessions took place on locations chosen by the patient, a tried-and-tested strategy ensuring that the subject would not be distracted by unknown factors. Moments of meaningful postures, sudden movements and emotional facial expressions were captured flawlessly by her motorized camera. Subjects spoke about experiences of great joy or deep pain, emotions Kavelaar tried to deepen by adding dramatic pauses. Precisely these kinds of moments provided valuable visual information, decisive for the diagnosis and the route that had to be taken with the patient. Due to subtle mood swings, seen on successive photographs, she was able to determine disorders that could not be detected with other methods, ranging from theatrical and evasive personality disorders to various social phobias.


Els Kavelaar at one of her sessions

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