This article recently published in Psychoanalysis and History casts light on the origins of infant psychiatry by taking a new, interdisciplinary approach to the work of psychoanalyst and film-maker René Spitz. Focusing on his observations of babies living in orphanages, it argues that by undertaking the difficult, and sometimes paradoxical, task of capturing emotional absence and psychological fragmentation on film, Spitz created a new and influential theory of the infant psyche. It considers how this vision of an indeterminate and potentially ‘empty’ infant subject was generated by the institutional care which he sought to undermine. The particular ways in which the institution emerges as a problem and opportunity for child analysts after World War II propelled Spitz into a surprising range of post-war debates on cultural politics. He is revealed as embedded in a complex, interdisciplinary web of discourse, practices and observational strategies, and at the centre of post-war visual research into the environmental origins of mental illness.