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At the time this post goes live on our blog, our Registrar will be speeding towards Belgium (courtesy of Eurostar) to deliver Bethlem’s contribution to Nervous Women, a major new exhibition at Museum Dr Guislain in Gent, which we have recently highlighted. This contribution takes the form of several dozen of the photographs of Bethlem patients taken by Henry Hering in the mid-nineteenth century, themselves the subject of recent posts on this blog. The photographs, which are normally securely stored in cool, dark conditions, require a courier due to their age and their irreplaceability; from the beginning to the end of her journey, the Registrar may not let them out of her sight. No pressure, then!
In making arrangements for this loan, the Archives & Museum has benefited from the advice and assistance of specialist photographic conservators and The National Archives, as well as from its own board of trustees. Since photographs degrade upon exposure to light, it is necessary to control the environment within which historic prints are displayed, and limit the intensity and the time of exposure. One expedient that has been adopted to ensure the security and preservation of the Hering collection is to supply the prints in succeeding batches, so that only a proportion of the images are on display at any one time. This means that, over time, repeat visitors to Nervous Women will notice that the Hering pictures are rotated. It also means that our Registrar is but the first of several members of staff who will need to hold their nerve over the coming months while burdened with the responsibility of delivering and collecting precious loan material.