Those backward Victorians

Group of Victorian women facing backward.

This image puzzled me for days when I first saw it on Pinterest. Why would a Victorian photographer take a picture of this group facing the wrong way? Was it an accident? A modern photoshopped joke? A symbol of mourning? Some sort of feminist statement? Documentation of a photography studio?

In classic academic fashion, I was over thinking it. I’ve done some research on the image and the answer turned out to be deceptively simple. It is not a modern fake, but a genuine tintype from ca 1880, from the Andrew Daneman collection of American Tintypes (photographer unidentified). Can you guess why they are facing backward before you read the answer? (Answer after the jump!) Continue reading

GUEST POST: Mike Crump on Robert Liston and the Spectacle of Surgical Amputation

The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil painting

Robert Liston was the first surgeon in England to use anaesthesia during surgical leg amputation. (Image: Wellcome Library, London. Oil painting depicting first use of ether during dental surgery, 1846).

Today’s post comes from Mike Crump, a brilliant young neuroscientist doing impressive brain research at Oxford (which is far too complicated for my humble art historical mind to fully understand, let alone articulate to you, so I won’t embarrass myself trying). When not discovering awesome brain things, Mike is interested in the dark corners of the history of science and medicine. He’s written a great article for the blog about a ridiculously interesting Victorian surgeon, Robert Liston, who was one part medical innovator, one part sensational showman. So read on for a bit of gruesome and fascinating history about a man who could amputate a leg in less than 30 seconds, and did so in a most spectacular style… Continue reading

19th Century Mug Shots from New Zealand

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This slideshow displays a sample of the amazing 19th century mug shots that formed part of a show I curated at the New Zealand Police Museum last year, Suspicious Looking (available here as an online exhibition). Until then, these incredible images had never before been shown to the public. What is it about old mug shots that is so utterly compelling? When we look at them, do we try to see evidence of their criminal nature written in their expression? Can you guess what crimes they committed by looking at their faces alone?

To see more of these mug shots, along with their names and crimes, click here to go to the Picasa web album or visit the NZ Police Museum website here. For some ridiculously interesting facts about mug shots, read on… Continue reading

Agnes Richter’s embroidered straitjacket

Embroidered straitjacked by asylum patient Agnes Richter, 1890s.

Straitjacket embroidered by asylum patient Agnes Richter in the 1890s. (Image: This Is Not Modern Art tumblr)

Agnes Richter was a German seamstress held as a patient in an insane asylum during the 1890s. During her time there, she densely embroidered her straitjacket with words, undecipherable phrases and drawings which  documented her thoughts and feelings throughout her time there. This remarkable object was collected by Hans Prinzhorn, a psychiatrist who ardently collected the artwork of his patients at a Heidelberg psychiatric hospital in the early 20th century. Continue reading