Research trip to the „Musée de la Préfecture de Police“ in Paris/France, January 2015
The museum of the police prefecture of Paris is located in the centre of town. It is only a five minute walk from the “Ile de la Cité”, the central court of Paris and the historical Prefecture where in nineteenth century Alphonse Bertillon resided in the upper stories as the head of the department of judiciary identification. The museum is however not housed equally grandiose, but in the third storey of a post-war concrete building. Already in the forecourt a sombre looking police officer blocks my way, the secret parole “museum” changes his expression and he leads me through a door. Here again, in a dark waiting room, ripe with the smell of the self-service coffee machine, faded posters of police announcements and wanted posters, I am lost. Another obstacle, this time a desk manned by a team of officers, has to be overcome before I am granted access to the elevator.
Right opposite of the entrance door to the museum there’s a section on the “Scientific Police”, mainly on Bertillon’s work. An accumulation of framed photographs and texts as well as objects introduces the development of identification and scientific police work. Among these are reproductions of historical photographs, of the process of taking anthropometric measurements, the archive of the Bertillonage records, tables for the portrait parlé, as well as crime scene photographs and reproductions of fingerprints. A huge enlarger takes up much of the space, but leaves room for a staged photo shooting – wooden posing chair and historical camera. Two puppets are representing a seated suspect under the gaze of a photographer whose face is clearly modelled on Bertillon – here he is the “Father of Scientific Detection” standing right in front of me, but slightly stiff. Another puppet operates a small wooden ordering cabinet for the Bertillonage identification cards, as it was used in the introductory phase of the new technique of biometric identification. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the records filled endless rows of shelves in the former police archive and a team of clerks were employed to order and retrieve the identification cards. Some of the cards and judiciary photographs are now kept in the archive of the Police Prefecture that I could visit on my last trip to Paris. In a corner a suitcase of instruments for taking the eleven anthropometric measurements of the Bertillonage rests in a vitrine.
When I arrive at the museum for a second time and ask for an appointment with a curator, the staff leads me into a small office. Even though my earlier message apparently didn’t reach her the woman greets me enthusiastically, as if she’d expected me. The room is overflowing with papers, boxes, objects – like tidal waves this ocean crashes onto her table. Bertillon Exhibited weiterlesen
“Ambiguities & Asymmetries”, Review of the SSN Conference, Barcelona, 2014
The bi-annual conference of the Surveillance Studies Network 2014 takes place in the centre of Barcelona, on the campus of the University of Barcelona and the adjoining cultural institution CCCB. This year’s conference’s topic opens the floor to discussions of “Asymmetries and Ambiguities” in Surveillance Studies. The attention for the conference is unusual, not only in academia, as it becomes obvious in the comparably large number of 170 participants, but also in exceptional public and media attention. This surely has to do with the revelations of Edward Snowden and the so-called NSA scandal, which have proved true or surpassed the often dismissed observations of the surveillance studies community. Here especially “asymmetries” come to the fore: between an all-encompassing state-run surveillance assemblage, drawing on private sources, on the one side and disempowered individuals on the other.
In the evening panel discussion (videos available online) with Caspar Bowden (a privacy advocate and former Microsoft executive), Katarzyna Szymielewicz (human rights lawyer, Panoptykon Foundation), and Ben Wizner (Snowden’s lawyer) who is participating via video connection, these asymmetries become apparent. Ambiguities & Asymmetries weiterlesen
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