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
Research visit to the “Museo di anthropologica criminale”, the Lombroso Museum for Criminal Anthropology in Turin/Italy, August 2014.
The navigation system leads us into the busy city of Turin in northern Italy, past huge shopping malls and petrol stations, past the derelict illegal housings of migrants, along the river and through the scenic city centre and on to a quieter part of town where the museum occupies a historical university building. The collection was created by the Italian physician and criminologist Cesare Lombroso in 1892 and has continuously existence ever since. It moved back to its former location the “Palazzo degli Instituto Anatomico” and was redone recently, explanations were added and multi-media installations guide the visitor, but the artefacts and the presentation are still in the vein of the famous advocate for positivist criminology.
The in the pompous hallway of the late nineteenth century building that was constructed as a “city of science” a video installation is installed below the ceiling. The inner side of the circular object shows portraits and specimen from the collection, a moving projector throws similar images onto this screen and creates temporary superimpositions of different faces. This introduction to visual material of the collection has striking similarities to the technique of composite photography that was developed as a mode of scientific visualisation by Lombroso’s British contemporary Francis Galton. The installation might also be an illustration of a scientific method, direct visual comparison.
In a dark, wooden furnished cinema-style anteroom a double-screen video installation introduces the time of Cesare Lombroso, the turn of the 19th century. Positivist to the Bone: Lombroso Museum 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