A Night at the Museum, 29 Sept 2016

We spent a truly stimulating evening in Bradford at the National Media Museum’s ‘Faces’ Lates event, combining talks on current work on how humans process faces by Dr Natalie Butcher (Teeside), and on EvoFit facial recognition technology from Dr Charlie Frowd (UCLAN) with brilliant drop-ins from our friends at Face Lab, and a fascinating demonstration of 3D printing of patient-specific facial diagnostic tools and prosthetics made by DePuy Synthes.

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Timed to coincide with the museum’s summer exhibition, ‘In Your Face’, which features a major display on Changing Faces and some of its younger ambassadors, the ‘Faces’ event mainly confronted contemporary issues of faciality.

The evening also featured the NMeM’s Dr Annie Jamieson, Assistant Curator of Science and Technology, discussing the devastating effects (and equally devastating scarification treatments, using cutting tools and no anaesthetic) of lupus vulgaris in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before it was linked to TB and treated with Finsen’s light machine.

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What was striking about the talk, and Annie’s accompanying images, was that the symptoms of lupus, eating away at facial flesh (and particularly the nose) were often confused with those of syphilis, and thus the patients suffered the double stigma of their ruined appearance and the assumption of moral shortcomings, often combining to limit their access to employment and treatment. Annie published some of her research (and illustrations) in 2013 as, ‘More than meets the eye: the therapeutic potential of light, 1896-1910‘, in Social History of Medicine, 26.4, 715-737.

Some of the surgeons involved in treating the lupus vulgaris sufferers went on to utilise their experience of facial damage to care for veterans of WWI. It was appropriate, therefore, that Annie’s presentation was in the same gallery as a display on the ‘Tin Nose Shop’, juxtaposing prosthetics created for WWI veterans with a photo album, held in the museum, of some of the victims before and after treatment.

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We’re looking forward to developing Effaced’s relationship with the NMeM as we both enter new phases, and thank John O’Shea for being such a great host. The evening ended with a little fun and frivolity, and the stern instruction from Emily to Trish that selfies should always be taken ‘downwards!’ (I see what she means – next time….)

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