Research visit to Bedford and the collection of the earliest preserved judiciary photographs of Britain, Beds & Luton Archives and National Archives, London, July 2014.
Bedford station emits a small town atmosphere – a relive after the hectic London streets. I start walking in the direction where I expect the town centre and ask some people for the way to my hotel. It turns out to be more difficult than expected, but I meet an elderly man who is happy to help and join me. He tells me that this weekend there’s the big river festival. While we are walking – as it later turns out in the wrong direction – we get to talk about the city and he shows me some landmarks.
Turning a corner, we are suddenly facing the prison complex of Bedford – this is the place where the first British judiciary photographs were produced in the nineteenth century. The history of Bedford Prison dates back to the 10th century and the current prison was built in 1801, it has been expanded in 1840 and in 1990 when a new block was added. In the early nineteenth century state of the art prison included a turnkey’s lodge and cells for different convicts such as debtors and felons. Penal work was mandatory and a system of solitary confinement and silence was severely enforced. Meals were taken in the cells and also during work hours on the treadmill prisoners were kept separate. In 1840 the goal was enlarged and houses for the governor and chief wardens were attached. Just recently, in 2012, it was revealed that the institution has the highest suicide rate of all English and Welsh prisons. We walk on and when getting closer to the riverside the quiet atmosphere disappears. We walk past large crowds of people amusing themselves with music, food and drink. And there it is – my hotel – right in the epicenter of the festivities, fortunately my room faces the backside.
Early the next morning I walk to the municipal building where Beds & Luton Archives are located. The nice staff leads me to a table in a well lit room and produces a large, leather bound volume that holds the prison records and portraits of Bedford Prison. Visualising the Criminal weiterlesen
Research visit to the Galton Collection London July 2014
This time easily find my way to Wolfson House in a side street of London’s Euston Station. At the door I am greeted by the porter who was also present last year. I am early, so I go up and sit down in the staff kitchen in the fifth floor where I meet Subhadra Das some minutes later. We chat for some time and it feels like coming home. The archive has returned to its old location after the refurbishment, this allows me to view the collection of artefacts and instruments that was packed away last time. I am here to explore the sources of the composite portraits and to trace connections to other archives and institutions.
Later in the morning a group of visitors from an American University arrives and Subhadra gives a tour through the collection. She skillfully uses individual artifacts and objects to guide through Galton’s career and his major achievements. A serviette ring with pyramids hints at the young explorer’s travels to Cairo and up the Nile, the source of the Nile being a recurrent subject in Galton’s later work in the National Geographic Society. A quite similar shaped, but entirely different object, a South-West-African wristband shows his travels as the first European into the interior of what is today known as Namibia. Prove of his gift as a developer are specifically designed apparatuses for morse communication by use of a mirror, a portable finger printing machine, as well as calipers and measuring devices for anthropometrical purposes. It is hard not to collapse in the hot and tiny rooms, but this approach to Galton’s through the objects in the collection really makes sense and could be a great contribution to the publication on composite photography I am planning as part of my project. Subhadra closes her tour with an observation of analogies in the character structure between Galton an the notoriously self-centered nerd character Sheldon in the US TV series “The Big Band Theory” and involves the psychology students in a discussion about the characters oscillating between genius and madness.
Instruments & Measurements
The most interesting part of the collection of objects are the various measuring instruments. Unlike many of his contemporaries Galton developed and designed many of the instruments himself. De-Composing Composites weiterlesen