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The Camera Always Lies

  • Free
  • Discussion
  • British Sign Language
  • Hearing loop
Photograph of four people seated in a row at a talk. They are looking up to listen to a speaker who is out of frame.
Library Insights, Michael Bowles. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

What you’ll do

Join an illustrated talk inspired by ‘The Cult of Beauty‘ exhibition. Danny Rees will discuss the history of how photography has shaped ideas of difference and disability.  

We will explore where popular concepts of beauty have come from and examine cases where people tried to use science to promote ’normalcy’ instead of inclusion. The new technology of cameras was used and manipulated in ways that promoted existing beliefs about who and what was beautiful.  

Suzannah Biernoff will then introduce some ideas from her research on consumerism, ableism, and monetising attraction. She will lead an informal discussion where you can ask questions.  



Need to know


We’ll be in the Forum. To get there, take the lift or stairs up to level 1 and then follow the signs through the ‘Being Human’ gallery.

Place not guaranteed

Booking a ticket for a free event does not guarantee you a place. You should aim to arrive 15 minutes before the event is scheduled to start to claim your place. If you do not arrive on time, your place may be given to someone on the waiting list.

British Sign Language

This event will have British Sign Language interpretation.

Hearing loop

There will be a hearing loop at this event.

For more information, please visit our Accessibility page. If you have any queries about accessibility, please email us at access@wellcomecollection.org or call 0 2 0. 7 6 1 1. 2 2 2 2

Our event terms and conditions

About your speakers

Danny Rees

Danny is the Library Engagement Officer at Wellcome Collection. He has published articles on facial expressions and physiognomy, appeared on radio and television and been a guest lecturer at the National Portrait Gallery on the subject of beauty.

Portrait photograph of a woman with glasses and collar-length hair, smiling.

Suzannah Biernoff

Suzannah Biernoff is a Reader in Visual Culture in the School of Historical Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her publications, focusing on ideas of the body and the self, include ‘Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages’ and ‘Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement’. She is currently working on a history of imperfection, tracing connections between early 20th-century plastic surgery and psychotherapy, changing understandings of disability, and contemporary discussions of self-care and authenticity. Arguing that imperfection is a foundational modern idea, the book will suggest new ways of thinking about the cultural preference for flawless perfection.