From torture boots to pipes of peace

Photographer Thom Atkinson recently had the run of the Wellcome Collection for a feature in the FT Magazine on the organisation’s 75th anniverary. Here are some of the extraordinary objects he shot for the piece, including a 16th century boot designed specifically for ‘torture purposes’, above

Photographer Thom Atkinson recently had the run of the Wellcome Collection for a feature in the FT Magazine on the organisation’s 75th anniverary. Here are some of the extraordinary objects he shot for the piece, including a 16th century boot designed specifically for ‘torture purposes’, above…

Last month Atkinson’s series appeared alongside a piece on the Wellcome Collection’s curiosities by Marek Kohn in the FT Magazine and the photographer has since uploaded a large selection of the photographs to his website, thomatkinson.com.

The Wellcome Collection is located on Euston Road in London and aims to explore the connections between medicine, life and art, through contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections. “The brief was simple really, to let the objects speak for themselves,” says Atkinson of the project. “We chose to keep to structured rules about scale, angle, background and lighting so that the whole series would gel and so that you could better compare each object with another.”

Wax hands, c.1950

Atkinson says that all the objects were handled by the curators, “so I spent a lot of the shoot saying ‘left a bit, right a bit, back a bit’, whilst they shuffled things into position. Once in place, each object was lit individually with the intention of describing it as well as possible. I enjoy the structure to a shoot like this: there’s a clear aim and a satisfaction in executing a shot just right.”

Personal highlights from Atkinson’s tour of the collection must include the Pythonesque torture boot (top), the boxes of preserved tattoos, and that old Thames-side fixture, the ‘rectal tobacco resuscitator’. More on how that worked, here. Give me a nice lifebelt any day.

Rectal Tobacco Resuscitator

Pair of Chinese shoes for bound feet, 1870

Sir Hiram Maxim’s Pipe Of Peace and Maxim Inhaler, 1901

Preserved tattoos, 19th century

Glass eyes, c.1890

Anti-masturbation devices (yes you read that right), 1880

More of Atkinson’s photographs from the Wellcome Collection at thomatkinson.com.

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