Book photography : “PROF – Alan Turing Decoded”

“PROF – Alan Turing Decoded” is a new book by his nephew Sir John Dermot Turing.

I was delighted to work with Dermot and his publishers, The History Press, in the creation of new photography to illustrate the book.

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The book tells the story of Alan Turing’s life from the family’s perspective. Using previously unavailable material, Dermot Turing improves and rounds out our understanding of the man behind the famous achievements, whilst debunking a few myths about his character.

Much has been made of Alan Turing’s genius: forward-thinking innovations, problem-solving visions and history-changing contributions coupled with typical British eccentricity and side-ways perspective. Not to mention his sexuality and how this affected his life up until his sudden and mysterious death in 1954.

There is a sense in the films and portrayals, probably for additional dramatic effect, that he was anti-social and a loner which it is clear from this book that was not correct. He was absorbed in all that he did, with singular intellectual focus and a lack of conformity, but was liked nonetheless and had a good sense of humour. He was never officially titled “Professor” but Prof was how he was known by colleagues.

To illustrate the book I photographed…

  • artifacts held in the archives at King’s College Cambridge. These included a spoon taken from his makeshift laboratory at home in Cheshire by his mother to support her belief that his death was an accident (caused by transferring cyanide to an apple from an electroplating process) not suicide. We also photographed original letters, photos, blueprints for machines and hand-drawn diagrams created by Turing in his work on morphogenesis.
  • Turing family artifacts held in the museum at Bletchley Park
  • original prints from the Turing family photo albums (no negatives exist)
  • locations on King’s College campus where Turing stayed when studying/researching
  • a beautiful oil painting by Walter Paget of Christopher Morcom’s Mother, who Turing became closer to after the death of his childhood friend.
  • the new author portrait of Sir John Dermot Turing.

In addition, selected images were drawn from my official Bletchley Park image library, via Mubsta Business Photography, with their kind permission. These have been used inside the book and also on the front cover.

All images, besides the portrait, were reworked in black and white from original files, including selected cropping and digital restoration of archive photographs, for best reproduction in the book.

Original work ©TheTuringArchive
Original Image ©TheTuringArchive
Original Image ©TuringFamily

The project was topped off by a special book launch event at the impressive K&L Gates building, next to St Pauls Cathedral, attended by those involved with the book and members of the Turing family. A highlight was chatting to the very sprightly Professor Bernard Richards who as Turing’s research student on morphogenesis was working closely with him until his death in 1954 and then went on to complete his unfinished work, an immense achievement in itself.

I would liken Turing to a four-faced pyramid. He had the skills that made him famous for code-breaking, he had his work in biology, he had his work in mathematics and his work in computer hardware and programming. All four sides of a pyramid come together to make a peak. That was Turing.

Prof. Bernard Richards 2012

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