From Graduates to Gainsborough

We celebrated our graduates earlier this month at the November graduation – mostly BAs but also MA and PhD. It’s such a pleasure to talk to those of you graduating after the ceremony – those infectious grins – and to meet your partners and families, and congratulate them for not having to put up with Birkbeck in their lives anymore (unless you enrol with us again for further study – or they do!)

This photo shows students with Professor Mark Crinson on a field trip for the BA option module ‘Concrete and Flesh: Modern Architecture and the Body’. Within a mile or so of Birkbeck, they were studying three buildings designed by the great Georgian-born architect Berthold Lubetkin for (what was then) the Borough of Finsbury. They visited the Spa Green Estate, the Finsbury Health Centre, and Bevin Court, and the photos show them on the top floor of the stairhall at the last of these, from where they could look down onto Lubetkin’s great Baroque-Constructivist space and out to St Paul’s Cathedral. The architecturally-minded among you will have spotted that the next evening this same stairhall featured in a scene in the BBC’s adaption of John Le Carré’s novel The Little Drummer Girl.

And to learn more about modern British architecture beyond London, come along to the Architecture Space and Society Centre‘s next event, 7 December 6pm in Keynes Library. Neil Shashore, of Liverpool University, will be giving the paper ‘Civic Centre: Architecture, Civic Design, and the Municipal Project in Interwar Norwich’. He’ll be talking about the emergence of the idea of a ‘Civic centre’ connoting deliberately planned and grouped buildings and spaces for public administration and assembly, while expressing civic identity and ceremony in a self-consciously democratic age.

Sean Willcock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the department, is producing fascinating research on the intersection between colonialism and photography. His article, ‘Aesthetics of the Negative: Orientalist Portraiture in the Digitised Collodion Plates of John Thomson’ was featured in the October issue of the journal Photoresearcher. It’s a response to the recent exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, Through the Lens of John Thomson, considering whether the show’s invitation to pay sustained attention to the photographic negatives – as opposed to the positives that circulated during Thomson’s lifetime – might enable new political readings of nineteenth-century colonial photography to emerge.

John Thomson, Manchu bride, Peking, Penchilie province, China, 1871, Wellcome Library, London.

Sean has also just given a paper on another photography topic: ‘Archiving Atrocity: Photography and the Amritsar Massacre of 1919,’ at the International Conference of Photography and Theory. With the centenary of the infamous Amritsar Massacre approaching, the British government is under increasing pressure to issue an apology for the colonial slaughter of hundreds of Indian civilians which took place on 13 April 1919.  The paper looked at the contested archives of this atrocity, considering how photographs linger to prick conscience or demand explanation in ways that continue to shape notions of national culpability.

Speaking of photography, Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, chaired one of the days of the Collecting Photography/Photography as Collecting conference held last weekend to mark the opening at the V&A of their new Centre for Photography, following dramatic expansion of their holdings after the Royal Photographic Society collection was moved there. They now show not just photographic prints, but also equipment and materials (the collection was previously at the National media Museum in Bradford). (For Queen fans: one of the papers was about Brian May’s world-class collection of stereo photographs.)

Sarah Thomas, Lecturer in the department, will be participating in a discussion at the Paul Mellon Centre on ‘Publishing Your Thesis’. Organised by the PMC’s Doctoral Researchers’ Network, the session offers an overview of the changing landscape of academic publishing, including some of the current opportunities and challenges. It includes practical advice from editors at Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre on choosing and approaching publishers, writing book proposals, and turning chapters from your thesis into writing samples. The discussion will also consider how publishing your research during your PhD might impact the process of turning your thesis into a book. Fri 7 December 2018, 16:30 – 17:30, booking essential.

And finally, the Centre for Museum Cultures has organised a gallery talk by Dr Lucy Peltz, Head of Collection Displays (Tudor to Regency) and Senior Curator 18th Century Collections (and Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck). She will give an informal talk and answer questions in Gainsborough’s Family Album about her role in co-curating this fascinating exhibition. Monday 10 December, 6.00-7.00pm.

Book early to avoid disappointment.

NPG 4446 Thomas Gainsborough, by Thomas Gainsborough, oil on canvas, circa 1759 © National Portrait Gallery, London