Posts Tagged ‘Alan Turing


Exhibition: ‘Eminent & Enigmatic: 10 aspects of Alan Turing’ at the Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum, Paderborn

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 16th December 2012


Model of a U-boat (Unterseeboot) used in the film 'Das Boot'


Model of a U-boat (Unterseeboot) used in the film Das Boot and multimedia screens at the exhibition



One of the greatest minds of the 20th century (code breaking, computers, intelligent machines, artificial intelligence), persecuted to death for being a homosexual. In 2010 there is an apology for Turing’s conviction as a homosexual: Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks for the British people when he says that he is sorry for the treatment meted out to Alan Turing:

“You deserved so much better!”

Better late than never.

Many thankx to the Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. I have supplemented their media images with other images that can be found on the Internet: the plugboard of an Enigma machine, a logic machine by Gisbert Hasenjäger, the Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), installation photographs of Hello, world! by Yunchul Kim, Alan Turing with two colleagues at the Ferranti Mark I computer and installation photograph of Love Letters_1.0 by David Link.

All photographs have been attributed where possible. The use of these photographs has led to an infinitely better posting that gives a greater insight into the exhibition, the work of the brilliant Alan Turing, and other work based on his ideas. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


Enigma machine lampboard and keyboard detail


Enigma machine lampboard and keyboard detail


Enigma machine rotor detail


Enigma machine rotor detail



Enigma and the Battle of the Atlantic

1939. The UK Government Code and Cipher School appoints one of the country’s best mathematicians, Alan Turing, to a post at its Bletchley Park headquarters, where the German enemy’s intercepted radio messages are to be deciphered. Operation ULTRA begins.

1940. The Atlantic becomes a major theatre of war, with German submarines attacking Allied supply lines. This first topic examines the secret communications between German submarines and the naval  high command in Berlin. Messages are encrypted using the Enigma machine. They are intercepted at British listening posts and sent to Bletchley Park to be deciphered.

The HNF is exhibiting the original model of the submarine from the film Das Boot, as well as a Marine 4-rotor Enigma. Further prominent exhibits which help relate this exciting story include radio technology items, codebooks and an interactive cipher rotor.


A three-rotor Enigma machine


A three-rotor Enigma machine with (from below rotors), lampboard, keyboard and plugboard (front of machine)



The Enigma was an electro-mechanical rotor machine used for the encryption and decryption of secret messages. It was developed in Germany in the 1920s. The repeated changes of the electrical pathway from the keyboard to the lampboard implemented a polyalphabetic substitution cipher, which turned plaintext into ciphertext and back again. Used properly, this provided a very high degree of security. The Enigma’s scrambler contained rotors with 26 electrical contacts on each side, whose wiring diverted the current to a different position on the two sides. On depressing a key on the keyboard, an electrical current flowed through an entry drum at the right-hand end of the scrambler, then through the set of rotors to a reflecting drum (or reflector) which turned it back through the rotors and entry drum, and out to cause one lamp on the lampboard to be illuminated.

At each key depression, at least one of the rotors (the right-hand or “fast” rotor) advanced one position, which caused the encipherment to alter. At a certain point, the right-hand rotor caused the middle rotor to advance and in a similar way, the middle rotor caused the left-hand (or “slow”) rotor to advance. Each rotor caused the “turnover” of the rotor to its left after a full rotation. The Enigma operator could rotate the wheels by hand to change the letter of the alphabet showing through a window, to set the start position of the rotors for enciphering a message. This three-letter sequence was “message key”. There were 26 × 26 × 26 = 17,576 possible positions of the set of three rotors, and hence different message keys. By opening the lid of the machine and releasing a compression bar, the set of three rotors on their spindle could be removed from the machine and their sequence (called the “wheel order” at Bletchley Park) could be altered. Multiplying 17,576 by the six possible wheel orders gives 105,456 different ways that the scrambler could be set up.

Text from the Wikipedia website


The plugboard of an Enigma machine, showing two pairs of letters swapped: S↔O and J↔A.


The plugboard of an Enigma machine, showing two pairs of letters swapped: S↔O and J↔A. During World War II, ten plugboard connections were made. The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections.

Photograph from Wikipedia under Creative Commons GNU Free Documentation License


Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) (World War Tw0) 'Bletchley Park' Buckinghamshire, England.


National Codes Centre and the National Museum of Computing (contemporary)
Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) (World War Tw0)
Bletchley Park
Buckinghamshire, England


British Tabulating Machine Company. 'Turing Bombe wiring at back' (detail) 1940-1945


British Tabulating Machine Company
Turing Bombe wiring at back (detail)



The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park

Up to 10,000 people are working hard to decipher German radio messages at Bletchley Park, and Alan Turing is one of their leading lights. He achieves the crucial breakthrough: his decryption device known as the Bombe can calculate Enigma code settings automatically, quickly and reliably. The rotors of up to 200 Bombes now run day and night, with radio messages able to be cracked within hours, while they are still of military relevance. This gives Winston Churchill and his military officers in London a priceless advantage.

The second topic of the HNF Turing year includes exhibits not previously seen in Germany, such as components of an original US Bombe owned by the NSA as well as loans of a functional checking machine and Bombe rotors from Bletchley Park. The entire communications chain is presented to visitors, from the German submarine radio operator all the way to the clear text message received by the British Prime Minister.


British Tabulating Machine Company. 'Turing Bombe' 1940-1945


British Tabulating Machine Company
Turing Bombe
7 feet (2.1 m) wide, 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall, 2 feet (0.61 m) deep



The working rebuilt bombe at Bletchley Park museum. Each of the rotating drums simulates the action of an Enigma rotor. There are 36 Enigma-equivalents and, on the right hand end of the middle row, three indicator drums. John Harper led the ‘Phoenix’ team that built this. It was officially switched on by the Duke of Kent, patron of the British Computer Society on 17 July 2008.


British Tabulating Machine Company. 'Turing Bombe rotors' (detail) 1940-1945


British Tabulating Machine Company
Turing Bombe rotors (detail)



The international scientific focus in 2012 will be firmly on Alan Turing. This legendary British mathematician and computer pioneer was born in London on 23 June 1912. His 100th birthday will be marked by numerous events, primarily in his native country, but also in the USA, Brazil, China and elsewhere. Germany’s Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn is to pay tribute to the achievements of this equally academic and awkward scientist with an ambitious exhibition entitled Eminent & enigmatic – 10 aspects of Alan Turing. Its aim is to present Alan Turing’s outstanding achievements to visitors in the form of original exhibits and innovative and artistic installations alike.

Turing’s research made a huge contribution towards deciphering German radio messages encrypted using the Enigma machine during World War II. Thus he played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, as well as in other major theatres of war. His theoretical work, which still forms the basis of information technology to this day, is equally significant. While his contemporaries could not see beyond the pure calculating capabilities of the computer, Turing designed the model of a universal machine capable of solving every algorithmic problem.

The exhibition at the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum will focus on Turing’s achievements in breaking the Enigma code and his basic work as a computer and computer science pioneer, while also shedding light on his views on the subjects of artificial intelligence and spacial pattern formation, as well as on the tragedy of his untimely death and his legacy.

This marks the first time that an exhibition will be shown in stages, with the ten exhibition topics portrayed in successive monthly presentations. The exhibition will open on 10 January 2012 with the topic Enigma and the Battle of the Atlantic. It will be followed as of 14 February with exhibits and presentations on The code breakers of Bletchley Park, the UK’s National Codes and Cipher Centre during World War II. The remaining topics will also be shown for a period of around one month until the exhibition closes on 16 December 2012.

“The multi-part exhibition format will allow us to provide our visitors with insights into aspects of Alan Turing’s life and works all year long,” said HNF managing director and project manager Norbert Ryska of this unusual approach in the first public presentation of EMINENT & ENIGMATIC. “This was the only way to attract significant and highly sought-after loans from at home and abroad, including exhibits from the US National Security Agency, the Science Museum in London, Bletchley Park and IBM. So regular visits to the HNF will be more worthwhile than ever in 2012.”

The exhibition will be held in a specially constructed pavilion in the foyer. In addition to the technical and scientific exhibits, artistic installations are to shed light on Alan Turing’s work and thinking. “We want to pay tribute to Alan Turing with a series of presentations because he was the mastermind of the digital age as well as an exceptional personality,” said Ryska of the exhibition concept. Turing’s achievements will open up several unusual avenues into the HNF permanent exhibition. It can be accessed via a special Turing tour and workshops for schools, making the special exhibition a great stepping stone into the world’s biggest computer museum, in which a section in the Hall of Fame has been dedicated to Turing since its opening in 1996.

Turing, who died on 7 June 1954 under mysterious circumstances, has only been properly appreciated by the public at large during recent years, although experts have sung his praises for decades. In 1952 Alan Turing was sentenced to a degrading 12-month course of oestrogen treatment designed to combat his homosexuality. He took his own life by eating a cyanide-laced apple one year after completion of the treatment, on 7 June 1954.


Exhibition topics and selected exhibits

  • 11.1.-12.2.2012 Enigma and the Battle of the Atlantic (Enigma, submarine model, radio equipment)
  • 15.2.-11.3.2012 The code breakers of Bletchley Park (Enigma, Bombe drums, Enigma rotor model)
  • 14.3.-8.4.2012 The Turing test (model of the brain, Turing test terminal)
  • 11.4.-6.5.2012 From Turbochamp to Deep Blue (Deep Blue Chip/Board, Turing chess engine)
  • 9.5.-8.7.2012 The history of intelligent machines (Robo Thespian)
  • 28.7.-26.8.2012 The Turing machine (HNF functional model, historic Turing machine)
  • 29.8.-23.9.2012 Pattern formation (Interactive Plant Growing)
  • 26.9.-21.10.2012 The Pilot ACE computer (UNIVAC delay line memory, Pilot ACE component)
  • 24.10.-18.11.2012 Love Letters/Mark I (installation by David Link)
  • 21.11.-16.12.2012 Tragedy and legacy – Turing today (Turing Award)

Short biography of Alan Turing (1912-1954)

Alan Turing was born on 23 June 2012 in London. From 1931 to 1934 he studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, where he was elected a fellow in 1935. During World War II he worked at the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park, developing methods of deciphering German radio messages encrypted using the Enigma machine. At the end of the war Turing turned his attention towards computer development, first at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington (1945-47), where he developed the concept of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), and then (as of 1948) as deputy director of the computing laboratory at Manchester University.

Although Alan Turing did not have too deep an impact on the invention of the first computers in the 1940s and 1950s, his theoretical concepts earned him a place in computer history: The Turing machine still provides an important basis for research into theoretical computer science today, and the Turing test proposed by him in 1950 in response to the question “Can machines think?” lent impetus to the development of artificial intelligence.

Turing, who died on 7 June 1954 under mysterious circumstances, has only been properly appreciated by the public at large during recent years, although experts have sung his praises for decades. In 1952 Alan Turing was sentenced to a degrading 12-month course of oestrogen treatment designed to combat his homosexuality. He took his own life by eating a cyanide-laced apple one year after completion of the treatment, on 7 June 1954.

In 2010 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed his regret at Turing’s persecution on behalf of the British Government and paid tribute to his exceptional contribution during World War II. US President Barack Obama placed Turing on a par with Newton, Darwin and Einstein during his recent state visit to London.

Text from the HNF website


British Tabulating Machine Company. 'Turing Bombe rotors' (details) 1940-1945

British Tabulating Machine Company. 'Turing Bombe' (details) 1940-1945


British Tabulating Machine Company
Turing Bombe (details)
7 feet (2.1 m) wide, 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall, 2 feet (0.61 m) deep



The Turing Test

In 1950 Alan Turing proposes a new type of test. He is researching the question of when a machine can be described as “intelligent”, using the human brain as a model. According to the Turing test, a machine is intelligent if it can convince a human interlocutor that it is itself “human”. This deception must succeed with the required frequency in repeated tests.


From Turochamp to Deep Blue

What do the contemporary luminaries Konrad Zuse, Claude Shannon, John von Neumann and Alan Turing have in common? They all want to play chess against calculating machines that they themselves have devised. But the history of computer chess began as early as the end of the 19th century, when Spanish engineer Torres Quevedo presented a chess-playing automaton whose rook and king could reliably checkmate the opponent’s king. The fourth topic is all about computer chess.

Turing defines his own rules for a chess algorithm, but his Turochamp program loses its first game in 1952 – played “by hand,” rather than run on a computer – against his friend Alick Glennie. It is not until 1997 that reigning chess world champion Garry Kasparov is defeated by a calculating machine, in the form of the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. The HNF is exhibiting original hardware from the machine and the original chessboard from this “final” game in the Turing pavilion – the first time these have been on show in Germany.


Processor board of Deep Blue


Processor board of Deep Blue, 1997




The History of Intelligent Machines

“Can machines think?” It is 1950 when Alan Turing asks this provocative question and founds a new field of research along with significant contemporaries of the likes of Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener and Joseph Weizenbaum: that of “artificial intelligence (AI).” To this day, the development of the “intelligent machine” has been marked by excessive expectations as well as important advancements.

The humanoid robot RoboThespian relates the history of AI as the fifth topic of our Turing year. RoboThespian is a prominent visitor to the Turing pavilion. With his love of theatrical appearances, he is more than happy to answer questions or cheekily imitate the gestures of visitors. An entire section of the permanent exhibition is devoted to AI and robotics. Our networked computers are becoming more powerful all the time. It is still unclear when precisely a team of robots will beat the human world champions – an event predicted by experts for some time.


The Turing Machine

Mathematician Kurt Gödel turns the world of numbers on its head in 1931, when he proves that there are some logical statements that are neither true nor false. Inspired by this revolutionary finding, Alan Turing takes up the baton and publishes the concept of the Turing machine in 1936. He demonstrates that his simple but universal theoretical machines can calculate everything that can be calculated by any machine or computer.

The HNF has built a mechanical Turing machine that can be tried and tested by visitors to the Turing pavilion. The logic machines of the Münster School are on show for the first time ever: in the 1960s Gisbert Hasenjäger and Dieter Rödding use spare parts from the German Federal Post Office to construct somewhat bizarre devices for logical calculations (see photographs below).


Gisbert Hasenjäger. 'Logic machine' c. 1960s

Gisbert Hasenjäger. 'Logic machine' c. 1960s


Gisbert Hasenjäger
Logic machine
c. 1960s



A logic machine by Gisbert Hasenjäger based on Turing’s work
Provided by Family Hasenjäger
Photographs from “Intelligenz ist ein soziales Produkt: Alan Mathison Turing zum 100. Geburtstag” on the Heise online website [Online] Cited 03/09/2020.

Die Turing-Maschine ist im Grunde keine konkrete Konstruktion, sondern ein mathematisches Konzept zum Nachweis der algorithmischen Berechenbarkeit einer Funktion. Dennoch sind anhand von Turings Arbeiten sehenswerte konstruktionstechnische Umsetzungen entstanden (The Turing machine has basically no concrete construction, but a mathematical concept for the detection of algorithmic computability of a function. Nevertheless, based on Turing’s work remarkable constructional reactions are caused).



The Automatic Computing Engine (ACE)

The war is over, with Germany having been defeated by the Allies. Alan Turing makes the transition from codebreaker to computer pioneer at the National Physical Laboratory. He designs the Automatic Computing Engine, known as ACE, entirely on his own. New features of this vacuum tube computer include its delay-line memories – very fast memories for digital data and programs. James H. Wilkinson builds the machine and presents the Pilot ACE builds the machine and presents the Pilot ACE to the public in 1950 as the world’s fastest computer.

At this point, Turing is already working on his next groundbreaking computer project, a new computer for the University of Manchester. The eighth topic is all about the new memory technology of the ACE. How can data be saved as sound waves? This question is answered not only with the help of an original ACE component, but also via the artistic installation Hello, world by Yunchul Kim, a three-metre sculpture made from copper pipes. This object acts as an analogue memory location for digital data.


Alan Turing (designer) James H. Wilkinson (builder) 'Pilot ACE' 1950


Alan Turing (designer)
James H. Wilkinson (builder)
Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) (Science Museum, London)
Photograph by Antoine Taveneaux from Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license



The Pilot ACE had 1450 thermionic valves (vacuum tubes), and used mercury delay lines for its main memory. Each of the 12 delay lines could store 32 instructions or data words of 32 bits. This ran its first program on May 10, 1950, at which time it was the fastest computer in the world with a clock speed of 1MHz.


Yunchul Kim. 'Hello, world!' 2006

Yunchul Kim. 'Hello, world!' 2006


Yunchul Kim
Hello, world!
Prix Ars Electronica 2006, Honorary Mention Interactive Art
Photographs from Marc Wathieu’s Flickr photostream
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic



Hello, world! is an interesting take on long- and short-lived data storage media. It uses acoustic signals to store data. A codified auditory signal (feedback) circulates in a closed system consisting of a computer, a loudspeaker, 246 meters of copper tubing and a microphone. Due to the acoustic delay in the tubing system, it’s possible to save data, whereby the rule is: the longer the copper tubing, the longer the time delay and the greater the memory capacity. In addition to this a screen shows a visual representation of the information traveling around the system. If a participant makes noises near the installation or hits the copper piping it interferes with the audio signal loop.

There is some instability in the system. If you go up to the sculpture you can hear the sounds (every sign of the ASCII code has its own sine wave frequency thus translating it in an acoustic signal) travelling through the copper piping. But a loud noise in the exhibition space or a vibrational disturbance from passing traffic or low frequency rumble effects the lettering on the screen and the text and Hello, World! starts to tremble as the quality of the signal degenerates and recovers.


Love Letters from a Machine

While in Manchester, Alan Turing writes the programming manual for the Ferranti Mark I, an early British digital computer, and trains staff as programmers. The Mark I no longer saves data and programs on punched tape, but instead uses a new system of a line of dots on a Williams tube display. Its storage capacity, which was huge for the time, gave users plenty of scope for new experiments, such as initial chess and draughts programs as well as digital musical  compositions. The penultimate topic in our Alan Turing year includes a display of the interactive installation Love Letters by David Link, who has created a fully functioning replica of the Ferranti Mark I using original components. The machine program generates personal love letters with the help of an algorithm. Christopher Strachey originally wrote the code for the love letters program in the 1950s.


Alan Turing with two colleagues at the Ferranti Mark I computer


Alan Turing with two colleagues at the Ferranti Mark I computer
Photograph from the Love Letters website [Online] Cited November 2012. No longer available online


David Link. 'LoveLetters_1.0. MUC=Resurrection. A Memorial' 2009-

David Link. 'LoveLetters_1.0. MUC=Resurrection. A Memorial' 2009-


David Link
Love Letters_1.0. MUC=Resurrection. A Memorial
Photographs from the Love Letters website [Online] Cited November 2012. No longer available online



From August 1953 to May 1954 strange love-letters appeared on the notice board of Manchester University’s Computer Department:

M. U. C.

The acronym M.U.C. stood for “Manchester University Computer”, the earliest electronic, programmable and universal calculating machine worldwide; the fully functional prototype was completed in June 1948 and was based on Williams tubes as means of volatile storage. One of the very first software developers, Christopher Strachey (1916-1975), had used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark I, the first industrially produced computer of this kind, to generate texts that are intended to express and arouse emotions.


Tragedy and Legacy: “You deserved so much better!”

Alan Turing dies at not quite 42 years of age, after eating a poisoned apple, as in the fairytale. His incredibly influential body of work remains, and has left its mark on the discipline known as computer science today. The tenth and final topic looks back on the Alan Turing year of 2012. For twelve months, Turing has been the focus of international conferences, events and exhibitions, which the HNF now reviews. We follow in Turing’s footsteps, visiting places where he worked and where his presence is still felt.

At the end comes an apology for Turing’s conviction as a homosexual: in 2010 Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks for the British people when he says that he is sorry for the treatment meted out to Alan Turing: “You deserved so much better.” Queen Elizabeth visits Bletchley Park in 2011. The Turing Award is now the biggest of its kind in the world of computer science.


Elliott & Fry. 'Alan Mathison Turing' 1951


Elliott & Fry
Alan Mathison Turing


Alan Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society.
Photograph was taken at the Elliott & Fry studio on 29 March 1951.



Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum
Fürstenallee 7
33102 Paderborn
Phone: +49 (0) 5251-306-600

Opening hours:
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Sat – Sun 10am – 6pm
Closed on Monday

Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum website


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Exhibition: ‘Gay Icons’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 18th October 2009


“How I wish this selection had been available to me when I was young and trying to make sense of my reactions to the world. How inspirational to have had portraits of the great and the good staring out at me telling me that I was not by any measure on my own.”

‘… it is her [K.D. Lang’s] androgynous good looks and tendency to strut on the stage which warms many lesbian hearts.’

Sandi Toksvig

Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Jill Furmanovsky. 'K.D. Lang, Le Meridien Hotel, London' 1992


Jill Furmanovsky (British, b. 1953)
K.D. Lang, Le Meridien Hotel, London
Gelatin silver print
© Jill Furmanovsky



The first portrait exhibition to celebrate the contribution of gay people and gay icons to history and culture. 60 photographs selected by Waheed Alli, Alan Hollinghurst, Elton John, Jackie Kay, Billie Jean King, Ian McKellen, Chris Smith, Ben Summerskill, Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Waters.

An important photography exhibition, Gay Icons, at the National Portrait Gallery (2 July-18 October 2009) will celebrate the contribution of gay people – and the significance of the gay icon – to history and culture. Ten selectors have worked with the Gallery to make their own personal choices of six individuals, their ‘icons’. Not only does this exhibition include many well-known icons, who may or may not be gay themselves, it also reveals some surprises and will encourage a wide audience to think about familiar faces in new ways.

The Gay Icons shown in the exhibition will include those people, living or dead, whatever their sexual orientation or interests, who the ten individual selectors regard as inspirational, or as a personal icon. Gay Icons brings together portraits of those people who are regarded as especially significant to each of the selectors, alongside those of the selectors themselves, all prominent gay figures in contemporary culture and society.

Coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, this exhibition focuses on portraits of both historical and modern figures. The choices provide a fascinating range of inspiring figures – some very famous, some heroic, others relatively unknown. Each icon is presented with information about their personal, and sometimes public, significance, some of it relating to the sitter but much of it linked to the selectors who have been prepared to share their experiences and feelings in their own exhibition texts.

Themes running through the exhibition include inspiration and how the ‘icons’ have inspired each selector in an extremely personal sense to realise their full potential, human rights, stemming from the specific consideration of sexuality, and how this might lead us to consider parallels between the struggles of different minority groups, re-discovery, or rescuing the reputations of figures who might otherwise have been forgotten or, worse, actively disregarded and surprise at some of the perhaps unexpected choices.

The project was developed from an initial proposal made by Bernard Horrocks, Copyright Officer, at the Gallery. The concept quickly evolved to include invitations to ten gay people – each distinguished in different fields – to act as selectors. They were chosen in consultation with their Chair, Sandi Toksvig.

Each selector could freely choose six ‘icons’, although the Gallery decided to limit the choices to photographic portraits, and therefore to subjects who had lived, more or less, within the last 150 years. This also seemed appropriate because within this same period homosexuality was gradually accepted and made legitimate in Britain.

The selectors are Lord Waheed Alli, Alan Hollinghurst, Sir Elton John, Jackie Kay, Billie Jean King, Sir Ian McKellen, Lord Chris Smith, Ben Summerskill, Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Waters.

Sitters include artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney, civil rights campaigner Harvey Milk, writers Quentin Crisp, Joe Orton, Dame Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith and Walt Whitman, composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, musicians k.d. lang, Will Young and Village People, entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Kenneth Williams and Lily Savage, and Nelson Mandela and Diana, Princess of Wales. Their fascinating stories will be illustrated by sixty photographic portraits including works by Andy Warhol, Linda McCartney, Snowdon, Polly Borland, Fergus Greer, Terry O’Neill and Cecil Beaton.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “‘Gay Icons’ is an exhibition in which inspiring stories – both private and public – are shared. These are stories of brave lives and significant achievements, told through iconic photographic images chosen by selectors who are themselves icons.”

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website [Online] Cited 10/07/2009 no longer available online


Gisèle Freund (French, born Germany 1908-2000) 'Virginia Woolf' 1939


Gisèle Freund (French, born Germany 1908-2000)
Virginia Woolf
© Gisèle Freund



Gisèle Freund (born Gisela Freund; December 19, 1908 in Schöneberg District, Berlin – March 31, 2000 in Paris) was a German-born French photographer and photojournalist, famous for her documentary photography and portraits of writers and artists. Her best-known book, Photographie et société (1974), is about the uses and abuses of the photographic medium in the age of technological reproduction. In 1977, she became President of the French Association of Photographers, and in 1981, she took the official portrait of French President François Mitterrand.

She was made Officier des Arts et Lettres in 1982 and Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, the highest decoration in France, in 1983. In 1991, she became the first photographer to be honored with a retrospective at the Musée National d’art Moderne in Paris (Centre Georges Pompidou).

Freund’s major contributions to photography include using the Leica Camera (with its 36 frames) for documentary reportage and her early experimentation with Kodachrome and 35 mm Agfacolor, which allowed her to develop a “uniquely candid portraiture style” that distinguishes her in 20th century photography.

She is buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, France near her home and studio at 12 rue Lalande.

See her full entry on the Wikipedia website


Harper & Brothers. 'Patricia Highsmith' 1942 


Harper & Brothers
Patricia Highsmith
Gelatin silver print
© Patricia Highsmith Collection, Swiss National Library / Swiss Literary Archives, Bern



‘…is a significant writer by any standard, but she deserves honouring as a lesbian and gay icon on the strength of one novel alone, ‘The Price of Salt’, a wonderfully complex and upbeat representation of lesbian love’ ~ Sarah Waters

Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer best known for her psychological thrillers, including her series of five novels featuring the character Tom Ripley. She wrote 22 novels and numerous short stories throughout her career spanning nearly five decades, and her work has led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Her writing derived influence from existentialist literature, and questioned notions of identity and popular morality. She was dubbed “the poet of apprehension” by novelist Graham Greene.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Her 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley has been adapted numerous times for film, theatre, and radio. Writing under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan,” Highsmith published the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, in 1952, republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name and later adapted into a 2015 film.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Paul Morrissey. 'Joe Dallesandro' 1968


Paul Morrissey (American, b. 1938)
Joe Dallesandro
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Morrissey, 1968



Joseph Angelo D’Allesandro III (born December 31, 1948), better known as Joe Dallesandro, is an American actor and Warhol superstar. Having also crossed over into mainstream roles like mobster Lucky Luciano in The Cotton Club, Dallesandro is generally considered to be the most famous male sex symbol of American underground films of the 20th century, as well as a sex symbol of gay subculture.

Dallesandro starred in the 1968 film produced by Andy Warhol, Flesh, as a teenage street hustler. Rolling Stone magazine in 1970 declared his second starring vehicle, Trash, the “Best Film of the Year”, making him a star of the youth culture, sexual revolution and subcultural New York City art collective of the 1970s. Dallesandro also starred in 1972’s Heat, another Warhol film that was conceived as a parody of Sunset Boulevard. …


Underground film career

Dallesandro met Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey in 1967 while they were shooting Four Stars, and they cast him in the film on the spot. Warhol would later comment “In my movies, everyone’s in love with Joe Dallesandro.”

Dallesandro played a hustler in his third Warhol film, Flesh (1968), where he had several nude scenes. Flesh became a crossover hit with mainstream audiences, and Dallesandro became the most popular of the Warhol stars. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote of him: “His physique is so magnificently shaped that men as well as women become disconnected at the sight of him”

As Dallesandro’s underground fame began to cross over into the popular culture, he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in April 1971. He was also photographed by some of the top celebrity photographers of the time: Francesco Scavullo, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon.

Dallesandro appeared in Lonesome Cowboys (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972), Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (both 1974), also directed by Morrissey. These last two films were shot in Europe. After filming was complete, he chose not to return to the U.S. He appeared in Serge Gainsbourg‘s Je t’aime moi non plus (France, 1976), which starred Gainsbourg’s wife, British actress Jane Birkin.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Lewis Morley (Australian, born Hong Kong 1925-2013) 'Joe Orton' 1965


Lewis Morley (Australian, born Hong Kong 1925-2013)
Joe Orton
Bromide print
20 in. x 16 1/8 in. (508 mm x 410 mm)
Given by the photographer, Lewis Morley, 1992
© Lewis Morley Archive/National Portrait Gallery, London


Fergus Greer (born England, lives Los Angeles) 'Quentin Crisp' 1989


Fergus Greer (born England, lives Los Angeles)
Quentin Crisp
Bromide fibre print
10 1/2 in. x 10 3/8 in. (267 mm x 264 mm)
Given by Fergus Greer, 2006
© National Portrait Gallery, London
© Fergus Greer



Gay Icons explores gay social and cultural history through the unique personal insights of ten high profile gay figures, who have selected their historical and modern icons.

The chosen icons, who may or may not be gay themselves, have all been important to each selector, having influenced their gay sensibilities or contributed to making them who they are today. They include artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney; writers Daphne du Maurier and Quentin Crisp; composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Benjamin Britten; musicians k.d. lang, the Village People and Will Young; entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Lily Savage and Kenneth Williams; sports stars Martina Navratilova and Ian Roberts and political activists Harvey Milk and Angela Mason.

Their fascinating and inspirational stories will be illustrated by over sixty photographic portraits including works by Andy Warhol, Snowdon and Cecil Beaton together with specially commissioned portraits of the selectors by Mary McCartney. McCartney. All are set in a striking exhibition design conceived by renowned theatre designer, Robert Jones …

This exhibition brings together ten selectors, chaired by Sandi Toksvig, each of whom is a prominent gay figure in contemporary culture and society. Each selector was asked to name six people, who may or may not be gay, whom they personally regard as inspirational, or an icon for them.

Their choices provide a fascinating range of figures – some heroic, some very famous, others less well known. In the exhibition the selectors write about their choices and share their own convictions, experiences and feelings. The display also features specially commissioned portraits of the selectors by Mary McCartney.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website


Ian Berry (British) 'Nelson Mandela' 1994


Ian Berry (British)
Nelson Mandela
Gelatin silver print
© Ian Berry/Magnum Photos



‘He has touched my heart, just as he has influenced the hearts and minds of people all over the world.’ ~ Billie Jean King

Ian Berry was born in Lancashire, England. He made his reputation in South Africa, where he worked for the Daily Mail and later for Drum magazine. He was the only photographer to document the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960, and his photographs were used in the trial to prove the victims’ innocence.

Henri Cartier-Bresson invited Ian Berry to join Magnum in 1962 when he was based in Paris. He moved to London in 1964 to become the first contract photographer for the Observer Magazine. Since then assignments have taken him around the world: he has documented Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia; conflicts in Israel, Ireland, Vietnam and the Congo; famine in Ethiopia; apartheid in South Africa. The major body of work produced in South Africa is represented in two of his books: Black and Whites: L’Afrique du Sud (with a foreword by the then French president François Mitterrand), and Living Apart (1996). During the last year, projects have included child slavery in Ghana and the Spanish fishing industry.

Important editorial assignments have included work for National GeographicFortuneSternGeo, national Sunday magazines, EsquireParis-Match and LIFE. Ian Berry has also reported on the political and social transformations in China and the former USSR.

Text from the Magnum website [Online] Cited 16/03/2019


Unknown photographer. 'Bessie Smith' c. 1920s


Unknown photographer
Bessie Smith
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print
Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images
© 1925 Getty Images



‘A feisty woman who always stood up for herself… She was bisexual and practically an alcoholic – the perfect icon’ ~ Jackie Kay

Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer. Nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and was a major influence on fellow blues singers, as well as jazz vocalists.

Read her full entry on the Wikipedia website


Howard Coster (British, 1885-1959) 'Sylvia Townsend Warner' 1934


Howard Coster (British, 1885-1959)
Sylvia Townsend Warner
Half-plate film negative
Transferred from Central Office of Information, 1974
© National Portrait Gallery, London


Sylvia Townsend Warner (6 December 1893 – 1 May 1978) was an English novelist and poet. She also made a contribution to musicology as a young woman.


Bertram Park. 'Ronald Firbank' (detail) 1917


Bertram Park (British, 1883-1972)
Ronald Firbank (detail)


‘He [Ronald Firbank] is celebrated as a master of high camp, but he was also a radical technician and radical homosexualiser of the novel.’ ~ Alan Hollinghurst


Bertram Park (British, 1883-1972) 'Ronald Firbank' 1917


Bertram Park (British, 1883-1972)
Ronald Firbank



Bertram Charles Percival Park, OBE, (1883-1972) was a portrait photographer whose work included British and European royalty. Engravings of his photographs were widely used on British and British Commonwealth postage stamps, currency, and other official documents in the 1930s. His theatrical portraits were the source for two paintings by Walter Sickert. With his wife Yvonne Gregory, he also produced a number of photographic books of the female nude. He was an expert in the cultivation of the rose and the editor of The Rose Annual. Text from the Wikipedia website

Arthur Annesley Ronald Firbank (17 January 1886 – 21 May 1926) was an innovative English novelist. His eight short novels, partly inspired by the London aesthetes of the 1890s, especially Oscar Wilde, consist largely of dialogue, with references to religion, social-climbing, and sexuality.


Unknown Photographer. 'Winifred Atwell' (detail) c. 1950s. Courtesy of Getty Images.


Unknown photographer
Winifred Atwell (detail)
c. 1950s
Courtesy of Getty Images



‘Winifred Atwell’s piano performances were simply captivating. She showed me what was possible and was a total inspiration.’ ~ Elton John

Una Winifred Atwell (27 February or 27 April 1910 or 1914 – 28 February 1983) was a Trinidadian pianist who enjoyed great popularity in Britain and Australia from the 1950s with a series of boogie-woogie and ragtime hits, selling over 20 million records. She was the first black person to have a number-one hit in the UK Singles Chart and is still the only female instrumentalist to do so.

Read the full entry about this amazing women on the Wikipedia website


Elliott and Fry. 'Alan Turing' 1951 © National Portrait Gallery, London


Elliott and Fry
Alan Turing (detail)
29 March 1951
© National Portrait Gallery, London



Elliott & Fry was a Victorian photography studio founded in 1863 by Joseph John Elliott (14 October 1835 – 30 March 1903) and Clarence Edmund Fry (1840 – 12 April 1897). For a century the firm’s core business was taking and publishing photographs of the Victorian public and social, artistic, scientific and political luminaries. In the 1880s the company operated three studios and four large storage facilities for negatives, with a printing works at Barnet.

The firm’s first address was 55 & 56 Baker Street in London, premises they occupied until 1919. The studio employed a number of photographers, including Francis Henry Hart and Alfred James Philpott in the Edwardian era, Herbert Lambert and Walter Benington in the 1920s and 1930s and subsequently William Flowers. During World War II the studio was bombed and most of the early negatives were lost, the National Portrait Gallery holding all the surviving negatives. With the firm’s centenary in 1963 it was taken over by Bassano & Vandyk.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Elliott and Fry. 'Alan Turing' 29 March 1951


Elliott and Fry
Alan Turing
29 March 1951
Vintage bromide print on photographer’s mount
6 3/8 x 4 5/8 in. (162 mm x 117 mm)
Given by the sitter’s mother, Ethel Sara Turing (née Stoney), 1956
© National Portrait Gallery, London



‘Turing was one of the most brilliant men of the first half of the twentieth century, but the refusal of post-war society to accept his sexuality drove him to commit suicide… We can and should honour him now.’ ~ Chris Smith



National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Open until 9pm
 on Friday

National Portrait Gallery website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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