Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
The Bethlem Archives & Museum in Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, records the lives and achievements of people experiencing mental health issues and documents the rich history of the institution, which began in 1247, along with its affiliated hospitals. Recognised as Europe’s oldest institution specialising in mental illnesses, it has been known as St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital and most notoriously, Bedlam.
Its museum is in the running to collaborate with the photographer, known professionally as Rankin, on a project which has its roots in Victorian images in the Museum’s collection. In the mid-19th century, photographer Henry Hering photographed numerous Bethlem patients to try and detect the patients’ mental health conditions through their facial expressions and features. The Museum holds a large collection of these images, showing patients before and after treatment and illustrating the Victorian need for categorization of patients.
The Museum would work with Rankin to create a new permanent collection of portraits. The project would raise awareness of the extent of mental illness, helping to reduce prejudices by showing that it is not always clear from a person’s appearance that they are unwell. Victoria Northwood, Head of Archives & Museum, said: “As we know now, mental illness cannot always be detected in people’s appearances and our project will aim to emphasise this point. Our historic photography collection is strong and it would be wonderful to be able to revisit the medium with a combination of Rankin’s skill and our contemporary values.
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