The Story of Fred Morgan | 2018–2023
Insectography <
Insect wings
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Birth in London, 1919. Childhood and parents. First jobs. Jersey Airways, before the outbreak of war. War breaks out, enrolment and France. Waiting for the enemy. Through the forest. Retreat to St Valery-en-Caux. Surrender at St. Valéry-en-Caux, June 12, 1940. Marching to Germany through the North of France, Belgium and Holland. Arriving at Stalag VIIIB. Digging at a training airport. November 1940, back to the main camp. Working camp building houses. The boxing match. The friendly guard. The loafs of bread. The stove fire. Last working camp, building a new coke works. Staring the Lamsdorf Death March. The Czech hospital. Stalag XIII D, The Nuremberg camp. Liberated by the American, April 16, 1945.

Insectography from Tapuscripts

Frederick John Morgan, my father, agreed to write me his life story in 2007. He was able to describe the first twenty-five years, before his memory was lost forever. The story begins with his youth in a poor neighbourhood of London. It ends twenty-three pages later with his release from the prisoner of war camps, where he was held for five years during the Second World War. When my father died in 2013, several people encouraged me to publish his story. The chronicle of a man who, despite himself, lived through dramatic historical events. So I tried to correct and edit his texts, but quickly felt that this corrupted their integrity. All the scars of his life, revealed by the hesitation he had in choosing the right words and the intensity with which he put them down, disappeared. To remain faithful to Fred Morgan’s typescripts and be able to render the emotion contained in the shades of grey left by the unequal typing of his fingers, I decided to create an alphabet.

To represent every typographic character, I used common insects found already dead, like little soldiers lying on a battlefield after the battle. I built a machine with which I crushed each insect in steps and photographed all these steps with the focus stacking technique to get a great depth of field. This way, I could generate perfectly sharp pictures by merging multiple shots and achieve between eleven and eighteen images of each insect at different stages of crushing. Finally, I captured 53,930 pictures, which I combined into 2009 images of 138 insects progressively crushed. I chose the most pertinent insects to transcribe the 80 typographical characters forming the text. With my typeface, I didn’t try to keep any resemblance with the Latin alphabet: Flies metamorphosed into vowels, and the rest of the insects into consonants. The spiders mutated into punctuation marks or symbols. Millipedes, woodlice, and so on turned into numbers.

The next step was to measure the exact position of the characters on the original page. I assumed this would be relatively easy, that the typewriter had typed the letters regularly spaced. I designed a system of targets and placed them on the first and last characters of each paragraph and supposed that the location of all those in between could be calculated. But the accuracy proved insufficient; the letters of the old mechanical typewriter had become misaligned, and the paper dimensions were too unstable. So I developed a JavaScript for Photoshop that allowed me to isolate every character into a separate image. This way I was able to find out which ones needed additional targets to correct their drift, and eventually, one in seven letters required it. A script then listed all the characters of the original pages along with their coordinates into a text file. Using another script, I evaluated the pressure that my father applied to the keys of his typewriter and added the result to the file. To recreate each page of the story and compose my “insectographies”, every corresponding insect image was placed according to the previously recorded coordinates.

Finally, twenty insectographs of 212 cm (83 ½″) by 150 cm (59″) were created from the A4 pages, and three insectographs measuring 150 cm (59″) by 105.7 cm (41 ½″) from the A5 pages. Furthermore, Marlis Zimmermann initiated and designed this publication to give these images another existence at the scale of the original documents. Thereby, the circle is completed.

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