Glass eyes, c. 1890
Wax head, c. 1930
Pair of Chinese shoes for bound feet, 1870
Pair of Chinese shoes for bound feet, 1870
Phrenological heads, 1821
Phrenological heads, 1821
Skeleton alarm clock, 19th century
Cat o' Nine Tales, pre-1900
Witch hunter's manual, 1494
Admiral Nelson's razor and Emperor Napoleon's toothbrush
Fakir's sandles, 1871
Assorted enema syringes
Preserved tattoos, 19th century
Assorted Roman votive offerings
Rectal tobacco resuscitator, 18th century
Merman, 19th century
Anti-masturbation devices, 1880
Prosthesis, 18th century

Co.Design

A Fascinating Array Of Weird Medical Artifacts, From Glass Eyes To A Witch-Hunting Manual

Thom Atkinson photographs a selection of objects from the amazing Wellcome Collection.

The Wellcome Collection, in London, bills itself as a “free destination for the incurably curious.” To my mind, that’s one of the few taglines that is both enticing and truthful. If anything, it undersells itself—it’s a stockpile of medical artifacts and bizarre objects, ranging from diagnostic dolls and Japanese sex aids to Napoleon’s toothbrush.

Recently, the London-based photographer Thom Atkinson shot a selection of the vast treasure trove set against a warm off-white background, to allow the objects to speak for themselves. “We chose to keep to structures 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,” Atkinson tells Co.Design. The pieces had to be handled by professional curators, so Atkinson spent a large part of the shoot saying, “left a bit, right a bit, back, a bit,” while they shuffled things into position. “I enjoy the structure to a shoot like this,” the photographer says. “There’s a clear aim and a satisfaction in executing a shot just right.”

Here, we present some of the photos from the shoot, capturing everything from glass eyes to anti-masturbation rings. Together, they illustrate our evolving fascination with health and the human body.

For more about Henry Wellcome, the American-British entrepreneur behind the collection—he also founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome, which later became part of GlaxoSmithKline—go here.

[All images courtesy of Thom Atkinson]

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