Portraits of the Invisible

Research visit to the “Espace photographique Arthur Batut” & the Arthur Batut Collection, Labruguière, France, April 2014.

A narrow, winding road takes us through fields and woods, up and down the slopes of the “Black Mountains“, this is a harsh landscape, the climate much colder than at the coast – the trees are not in bloom jet. At the foot of the Mountain, the Arthur Batut Museum is secluded in the small village of Labruguière in the French Pyrenees. The museum is however not as idyllic, a quite impressive, newly erected municipal building next to the central roundabout. It houses the museum and archive on the 19th century French photographer, who is known as a precursor of aerial photograph, as well as for his experiments with the composite technique, the superimposition of portraits, he further developed, following the example of his Victorian contemporary Francis Galton.

Laura Falcetta already waits for us and leads us into the building of which a large room in the ground floor is dedicated to the Museum. Along with prints and instruments from the Batut collection, the small but well-designed exhibition presents instruments and artefacts from the history of photography. The museum however also shows temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists, whose works show connections to the permanent exhibition. In two small, but packed adjoining rooms, the collection of photographs, instruments and documents on the 19th century photographer is kept. Portraits of the Invisible weiterlesen

Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris

Research visit to the „Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris“

During my visit to the „Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris“, in February and March 2014, I am examining the material related to the work of Alphonse Bertillon, who is described as a protagonist of scientific police work and the founder of modern identification. Drawing on insights from social statistics and studies in human physiognomy, he developed a system of identification based on anthropometric measurement, additional descriptions and photography. I am here to look at his utilisation and development of the then still young medium of visual recording. In relation to my PhD. Project, especially his practice of depicting the face in the systematic frontal and lateral judiciary portrait and the technique of dissecting and re-composition of the human face in the “portrait parlé”, the verbal portrait, is relevant. Furthermore I am here to explore the connections between the modes of depiction in Francis Galton’s composite portrait and the recording and decoding of the criminal face as proposed by Alphonse Bertillon.

I am pushed to daylight by an escalator at the Station “Hoche” in the north-western outskirts of Paris. An overpowering smell of food and rotten fruit is in the air. On my way to the archive, I walk through a slightly run-down neighborhood, past an outdoor marked, a neglected shopping centre, take away restaurants. The archive has just recently moved here from the city centre, where it was housed in the buildings of the Police Prefecture. The new location is set back behind a green fence, only a small sign indicating that this seemingly small structure contains this huge historical archive. After the registration process, in which I am provided with an identification card, I am sent through a back door to meet the responsible persons for the photographic archive. A middle aged woman and an older man show me five folders full of paper photographs and reproductions, filed under the name Alphonse Bertillon and the headers “Identification Judiciaire” and “Affaires Criminelles”. While the latter include material on individual criminal cases, the former are those I am looking for. Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris weiterlesen