This exhibition examines the rise of social
and celebrity portrait photography in the 19th century. It brings
together over 100 works from public and private collections,
discussing the role of the portrait image as a form of social
classification and examining concepts of criminality and celebrity.
Highlights of the exhibition include rarely
seen surveillance images of suffragettes issued to art galleries
to help them identify possible vandals, an intriguing series
of portraits of murderers and their victims, fascinating photographic
composites which present an average likeness of a family and
alarming records of how the face responds to electric shocks.
The exhibition features works by many of the most celebrated
photographers of the period including Julia Margaret Cameron,
Lewis Carroll, Oscar Rejlander, Atget, and Roger Fenton.
19th century society was fascinated with
the notion of character, believing that it could be best understood
through close scrutiny of the human face. Photography provided
the most powerful tool for analysis and was readily applied to
the collecting, ordering and comparing of images of the face.
The exhibition is divided into sections which survey the use
of portrait photography in different fields during the 19th century
and show that the systems used to classify the face in the 19th
century are still in use, and instantly recognisable, today.
focuses on the great interest in genetics and inheritance, particularly
the passing down of facial features through generations of the
family. Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Darwin, invented a form
of composite for which he took photographs of several members
of a family and then produced a single likeness which presented
an average resemblance of that family.
Schooling Society looks
at institutional portraiture and includes rarely-seen pictures
from the early Barnardos schools. It examines the concept of
a celebrity as an anonymous figure in an old school photograph,
as often seen in biographies, and the idea of the individual
conforming to the uniformity of the group.
Mind and Body puts the portrait in a medical context,
displaying portraits of the mentally ill by Henry Herring. Physiognomy
and phrenology perpetuated the belief that mental illness expressed
itself physically and these portraits were used for diagnosis
and to record treatment. The patients are posed in a very similar
way to the academics and physicians photographed by Hill and
Adamson in 1845. Their early calotypes of doctors working with
the Free Church of Scotland were studies for The Disruption
Picture, a painting by David Octavius Hill. Also on display
are photographs by Dr Duchenne Boulogne who attached electric
probes to the face to record its reaction to the electric pulses.
The Museum and Collecting focuses on the National Portrait Gallery itself
and the concept of collecting likenesses. While the Gallery did
not have a photographic department until 1974, its first Director,
George Scharf, had an extensive private collection of celebrity
carte-de-visites and many of these are included in the exhibition.
Also included are photographs of prominent suffragettes which
were circulated to Gallery staff following an attack on a portrait
of Thomas Carlyle in 1912. Publications such as Men of Mark
and Our Celebrities, where portraits of current celebrities
could be collected monthly and then bound into volumes, responded
to the great national interest in collecting and celebrity.
Crime and Punishment charts the rise of the professional police force
and the development by Alphonse Bertillon of the photographic
identification records for criminals which present a full view
and profile of the face. The exhibition juxtaposes portraits
of murderers alongside their victims in a way still seen in newspapers
today and includes some fascinating forensic photographs of the
scenes of crimes.