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Past events


    28 June: Radical Visions: the cultural politics of Camerawork 1972-1985

    A Collaborative Symposium
    Four Corners with History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, Birkbeck

    Speakers included:

    • Mathilde Bertrand, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne
    • Patrizia Di Bello, Birkbeck, University of London
    • Steve Edwards, Birkbeck, University of London
    • David Evans, writer & photo-montage artist
    • Carla Mitchell, Four Corners
    • Don Slater, London School of Economics
    • Amy Tobin, University of Cambridge

    This event accompanied the Radical Visions exhibition at Four Corners Gallery, and the launch of its new digital archive. It considered Camerawork's engagement, role and influence with community-practice, feminism and representation, and asked how its broader legacy can be understood within the context of today’s cultural politics.

    Tuesday 5 June: Photochemistry, Atmosphere and Affect in the Case of Ilford Limited 1914 –1945 - Michelle Henning (University of West London)

    When: 6-7:30
    Where: Room 416, Birkbeck’s main building on Torrington Square

    How can we think of photochemistry as part of the varied means by which sensory experience and affect are reconfigured in modernity? Hard / dry technologies have been understood in this way (think of Walter Benjamin’s assertion that cinema met the modern spectator’s altered sensorium “halfway”). Analogies such as prosthetics have been used to explain the way in which photography extends human capacities, but such analogies generally invoke mechanical or optical objects (a prosthetic limb or a pair of glasses). This paper explores how chemical innovations in photography between 1914 and 1945 transformed not just photographs but the material conditions of everyday experience, shaping new kinds of perception, sensation and affect. Drawing on recent work on affective atmospheres, feeling and mood, and on the Ilford company’s archives, this paper outlines Henning’s first attempts at this kind of photographic history.

    29 May: Book Launches!

    April 2018 - Exhibition  - CULTURAL SNIPING: Photographic Collaborations in the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive

    Come to see the exhibition, or join us for roundtable discussions on:

    • Thursday 19 April, 6-7:30, Cinderella: Women, Class and Fairy Tales in Jo Spence's work
      with Marina Warner and Frances Hatherley, chaired by Lynda Nead.
    • Thursday 26 April, 6-7:30, Collaborative Projects: Pleasures and Pains
      with Rosy Martin, Carla Mitchell, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, and Jacob Bard-Rosenberg, chaired by Patrizia Di Bello

    9 March – 28 April 2018: Cultural Sniping: Photographic Collaborations in the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive

    9 March – 28 April 2018 in the Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD

    This exhibition showcases important materials from the archive of the late Jo Spence, British photographer, writer, and self-described 'cultural sniper', tracing links and collaborations in activist art, radical publications, community photography and phototherapy from the 1970s and 1980s. Consistent with Spence's ethos of radical pedagogy, this exhibition focuses on her collaborative working methods. It opens up the archive, displaying books, magazines, journals, collages, photographs, posters, pamphlets, notes, letters and props, to provide insights into Spence's practices and the culture, politics and activism informing them. Screenings and workshops will run alongside the exhibition.

    On display are works made in association with Spence's collaborators, including Terry Dennett and Rosy Martin. Materials from the Photography Workshop community project to the Polysnappers, the group she worked with while a mature student, show how they used photography to interrogate dominant representations of labour, class, race, gender and sexuality, developing a praxis of political and social change through education. Life-long learning was crucial to Spence, who encouraged others to engage in visual critiques and consciousness-raising projects based on their own life experiences. She and Martin pioneered the practice of phototherapy, working through themes of working-class identity and stigmatisation, sexuality, grief and illness, using photography in an empowering and transformative way.

    Curated by Patrizia Di Bello, Frances Hatherley, and a group of Birkbeck students. Supported by a grant from Birkbeck Alumni Fund. Part of Birkbeck's Opening up Art History 50th anniversary celebrations.

    Keep an eye on the exhibition page for more information!

    4 April 2018, Who Can Tell? Histories and Counter-Histories of Photography in Canada.

    Martha Langford (Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University in Montreal)

    When? 6:00-7:30
    Where? Keynes Library (room 114)

    New national histories of photography are appearing. Some are recuperative, supplementing the canon with missing or underestimated figures. Others are methodological retellings, refreshing the canon with new historiographical perspectives. Some are bent on justice, adapting postcolonial, decolonizing, or settler-colonial theory to the writing of counter-histories. The Canadian situation is somewhat unique. There is no authoritative story to retell, as a national history of photography has never been written. It exists in the collective imagination, based on a substantial repertoire of texts by archivists, curators, critics, theorists, and photographers. Never consolidated – never imbued with canonical authority – the idea of such an official history nevertheless invites reconsideration in the form of counter-histories. This paper considers the entanglement of history and counter-history in photographic studies, posing the deceptively simple question: which is which?

    6 February 2018, 6:00-7:30pm: The Touch of Light: Bruce Nauman’s Holograms Elizabeth Johnson (Associate Research Fellow, Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology)

    Where? Keynes Library (room 114)
    When? 6-7:30pm

    In 1968, less than a year after it first became possible to produce holograms of people, Bruce Nauman began to work on two series of holographic self-portraits. Nauman made these luminous, intangible, three-dimensional images of his body during a period in art’s history that is closely associated with the notion of dematerialisation. This paper uses Nauman’s holograms to interrogate the significance of materiality and tangibility in Anglo-American sculptural aesthetics at the end of the 1960s. Although the holograms can be aligned with the apparent move towards the dematerialisation of the sculptural object, this paper shows how their subsequent reception has been shaped by their particular materiality. Ultimately, it argues that Nauman’s holograms hold in suspension a commitment to both the values of modern sculpture and a negation of sculptural corporeality.


    9 November 2017: Nina Lager Westberg (Norwegian University of Art & Technology), Images at Work: Digitisation and the Archival Cultures of Photography.

    Production at Wilh. Scheel & Co. reprographic studio, Kristiania (Oslo), c. 1910. Photo: Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology/

    The digitised research cultures of today are deeply dependent on technologies that count photography among their immediate ancestors. Whether consulting a digitally scanned image of a book page through the Google Books facility, or examining a digitised photograph of a material object in an online museum collection, professional and amateur researchers alike encounter an overwhelming share of their sources in the form of digital surrogates, which are either derived from pre-existing photographic records or created through lens-based imaging technologies that trace their lineage back to photography. This work-in-progress presentation took the view that photography and its archival cultures may be seen as active agents rather than passive objects of digitisation. Engaging the work of Steve Edwards (2006) and Mercedes Bunz (2013), it particularly explored how the notion of skill and knowledge as contested territories within capitalist production is equally applicable to recent and ongoing practices of digitisation, as to earlier practices of industrialisation.

    29 November 2017: Kate Flint, Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination (Oxford UP, 2017)

    Where? Keynes Library (room 114)
    When? 6:00-9:00pm

    Book Launch - panel discussion followed by drinks.


    24 October 2017, Dr. AnnaLea Tunesi (independent scholar) - Art Dealing, Taste and Politics: Photographs from the archives of Florentine art dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922)


    This presentation explores the importance of photography in the nineteenth-century art market and for art-historical studies at large. Looking at images of paintings, sculptures and mediaeval and Renaissance crafts can be simultaneously revealing and deceiving. Time, place and users can change their connotations, raising important questions about their relationship to the original works. Intertwining photography, art collecting and art dealing, considered within an historical framework, this talk begins with Stefano Bardini’s show-room, to introduce his use of photographs for art dealing purposes by exploring the case study of a photograph of Allegory of Love, a c.1508 painting by ‘Il Sodoma’ (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi), and its acquisition of various meanings through its European journeys.


    27 April: Christina Riggs (University of East Anglia) - Photographing Tutankhamun: Photo-objects and the archival afterlives of colonial archaeology

    When? 6pm-7:30pm 
    Where? Room 106, 43 Gordon Square

    In archaeology, the photographic image remains fixed as an ‘objective’ record of a site or object, or a self-regarding snapshot of famous excavators rescuing ‘ancient Egypt’. This paper uses the photographic archive of the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb (1922-33) to consider how archival processes were embedded in the practice of archaeological photography and in the ‘afterlives’ of these processes, as the archive was cared for in subsequent decades. Prominent as the tomb of Tutankhamun has been in colonial, postcolonial, and neo-colonial imaginaries, my discussion of its photo-objects and historical archiving underscores the need for more critical approaches to current archival efforts, which otherwise risk reinforcing the empirical positivism that underpinned the colonial project in the first place.

    5 May: Thresholds: Seeing the Past Through the Future

    Pete James & Mat Collishaw
    A collaboration with Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology
    When? 6pm-7:30pm
    Where? B04, 43 Gordon Square


    In 1839 WHF Talbot exhibited an extensive selection of his new photogenic drawings at the Birmingham meeting of the Association for the Advancement for Science. In a time of disturbance, this important event took place in King Edward’s School on New Street, a major work of Neo-Gothic architecture by Charles Barry, which was demolished in the 1930s.

    Pete James (former Curator of Photography Collections at Birmingham Library) and acclaimed artist Mat Collishaw will talk about their innovative research project that recreates the exhibition and space as a Virtual Environment. Their exhibition Thresholds opens in London on May 17th; here they offer a preview.

    15 May: The Jo Spence Memorial Library and Archive

    Over Birkbeck Arts Week 2017 the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre hosted a workshop on the Jo Spence Archive and Memorial Library. Jo Spence was a British photographer, writer and ‘cultural sniper’. During this event, Dr Patrizia di Bello spoke about the archive as ‘feminist family album’, and Professsor Steve Edwards reflected on British documentary in the 1970s. You can listen to recordings of both talks here.

    17 May: Art Nouveau and modernist architecture

    When? 2pm-5pm
    Where? Room G04, 43 Gordon Square

    This session explores how women engaged with architecture around the turn of the twentieth century in order to produce professional identities, by focusing on two iconic buildings: the Jugendstil Photo Studio Elvira in Munich (1896 by August Endell) and E-1027 (1926-1929) built in the south of France by Eileen Gray with Jean Badovici. We discover the ways in which the personal and the professional coincided in these bold architectural designs.

    This event is part of Birkbeck Arts Week 2017 - see the full programme here.

    19 January: Profane Illuminations - Margaret Iversen

    Robert Rauschenberg, Rebus, 1955.

    When? 6:00-7:30pm
    Where? Room 120

    Walter Benjamin credited the Surrealist movement with 'a true, creative overcoming of religious illumination’ by replacing it with a kind of ‘profane illumination’. This talk attends to two key moments in the art of producing technically mediated, profane illuminations. They are, first, the innovations of the Surrealist movement itself and, second, Leo Steinberg’s ‘Other Criteria’ with its conception of the picture plane as a receptive surface or, as he put it, ‘a consciousness immersed in the brain of the city’.

    ‘New! Art… Plus Added Social Purpose’: BLOCK and the Periodical Landscape of 1970s British Art History - Samuel Bibby (Association of Art Historians)

    When? Wednesday 16 November, 6:00-7:30pm
    Where? Room 106, 43 Gordon Square

    This paper sets out to provide an historiographical account of the formation of the British periodical BLOCK, the pioneering magazine dedicated to art, design and visual culture founded by a collective of academics from Middlesex Polytechnic in 1979. But rather than doing so solely through the analysis of it as merely a set of texts, a map of verbal discourse, it instead considers BLOCK within the expanded field of the visual contexts from which it emerged. By specifically positioning it within frameworks of material production, and addressing it in terms of the technologies by which it was reproduced, I argue for a realigned approach to the historiographical study of the so-called ‘new art history’. Through a close reading of John Stezaker’s typographic collage for the back cover of the first issue of BLOCK, I present a picture of the discipline in 1970s Britain engaged as much with the social, political and economic conditions of the time as with the visual and material histories of radical art magazines.


    Spiritualising the machine: the modernist photography of UHU magazine - Tim Satterthwaite (Visiting Lecturer, University of Brighton)

    When? Monday 24 October, 6:00-7:30pm
    Where? Room 106, 43 Gordon Square

    The photo-illustrated monthly UHU was at the heart of the progressive photographic culture of Weimar Germany. In a stream of articles and photo-pages in the late 1920s, UHU showcased the work of modernist photographers, such as Albert Renger-Patzsch and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, alongside the radical new perspectives of scientific and aerial photography. UHU’s modernism offered more, however, than a simple embrace of technological modernity; like the great photographic exhibitions of the period, the magazine sought a reconciliation between the rationalising forces of the machine age and the organic principles of the natural world and traditional life. This talk describes how UHU’s modernist synthesis was expressed through a unifying aesthetic of repetition and regularity. The magazine’s photographs of microscopic plant forms, aerial landscapes, and the textures of urban life, were symbolic of alternative visions of social order – the organic or technocratic principles of an ideal future society.


    Summer term 2016

    Thursday 9 June: Before ‘White Australia’: The Singleton Family Photo Albums and Early Australian-Japanese Relations

    Luke Gartlan (University of St. Andrews, History of Photographyjournal)

    Suzuki Tōkoku, Untitled (Theophilus Alexander Singleton and anonymous Japanese man), carte de visite, June 1880. State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.


    Monday 16 May 2016: Photographic Experience of Space

    As part of Arts Week 2016 at the School of Arts. Birkbeck The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre hosts an evening of visual exploration with members from Ph: The Photography Research Network. Patrizia Di Bello (Birkbeck) will introduce Andreia Alves de Oliveira, Annalisa Sonzogni and Alexandra Tommasini for this demonstration of a typical Ph workshop on recent projects: two exhibitions and one research paper where the visual will meet the spatial in a critical and creative interaction. Presentations will be followed by a round table including the photographers, researchers and historians, we will conclude with questions from the audience. Places are free but limited. Please book now.

    Should you wish to discuss your interest in post graduate photography studies at Birkbeck join us for an informal reception following this event.

    Image credit: Annalisa Sonzogni,  Assembly Hall of former Lilian Baylis School 2015

    Spring term 2016

    Wednesday 9 March 2016: Jennifer Tucker (Wesleyan University & Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities) - Picturing Modernization: Vision, Modernity and the Technological Image in Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium

    Where? Clore Lecture Theater, Clore management Centre, Torrington Square (opposite main building), WC1E 7JL
    When? 6-7:30pm

    Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium: Coming of the Machines is one of the earliest histories to compose the historical narrative ofmodernization as a series of 'images' in popular historical imagination. The book consists of a scrapbook compilation of writings from 1660 to 1886 that Jennings collected and annotated between 1938 and 1950, when he died (aged 42). Never brought to completion during his lifetime, excerpts were published in 1938, in an issue of the London Bulletin edited by Jennings, but it was only finally published as a book in 1985, over thirty years after his death. (The director of the London Olympics opening ceremony, filmmaker Danny Boyle, said he was inspired by images in Pandaemonium in his effort to tell a story about Britain’s place within the modern world). In this talk Dr Tucker will explore the nature and significance of Pandaemonium as a source in the long history of the visualization of modernity, considering the ways in which science and technology, through the Industrial Revolution, not only shaped the natural and industrial topography, but also informed ideas, language, perceptions, emotions and imagination of the inner landscape.

    Jennifer Tucker is a historian of modern Britain at Wesleyan University in CT, where she teaches the history of science and technology and visual studies; and a Visiting Fellow at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (January - April 2016). Her first book, Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (released in paperback, 2013) explored the history of debates over photography and visual objectivity in Victorian science and popular culture. As a US-UK Fulbright Scholar in the History of Art at the University of York in 2014, she conducted research for a second book-length project, recently completed, titled Identity after Photography: The Great Tichborne Trial in the Victorian Visual Imagination. She is currently working on two new book-length projects: Science Against Industry traces the history of the making and presentation of visual exhibits in Victorian courtroom debates over air and river pollution. Caught on Camera is a book-length study about the history of facial recognition detection systems and their evasion, and is being funded by a 2016 Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


    17 February 2016: Docile Suffragettes? Resistance to Police Photography
    Linda Mulcahy (London School of Economics)
    Room B04, 6-7:30 pm

    Seminal accounts of the history of photography commonly draw attention to the mugshot as the archetypal documentary visual record in which prisoners are rendered docile.  This paper attempts a revisionist account of the mugshot by looking for evidence of resistance and agency. In doing so it draws on a little discussed campaign in which suffragettes regularly resisted having their photographs taken by prison authorities and discusses the implications of this for the way we view these photographs.

    Tuesday 26 January 2016 - 6pm-8pm (Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts, 46 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD)

    Marta Weiss (Victoria and Albert Museum): Julia Margaret Cameron: New Discoveries

    Responding: Colin Ford (Former head of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford)

    This seminar will explore the new material Martha Weiss discovered while researching the current must-see exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, marking the bicentenary of the birth of Julia Margaret Cameron, 150 years after she first exhibited her work there. Colin Ford has worked extensively on this important photographer, most notably in the comprehensive catalogue Julia Margaret Cameron: Complete Photos (Getty, 2002).


    Autumn term 2015

    About (Some) Women Photographers 1839-1919, Thomas Galifot (Musèe d’Orsay)
    Friday 27 November 2015 - 6-7:30
    Room 112

    Detail from Julia Margaret Cameron Mrs Herbert Duckworth April 12, 1867 (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

    Relying on the histories of photography that have been re-evaluating, over the last forty years, women’s role in the development of the medium, the exhibition now on view at the musée de l’Orangerie is the first, in France, to approach the first eighty years of this phenomenon. Based on new research, it is also the first extensive study of French women photographers of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries. Forgotten or unknown talents are brought to the light of the exhibition walls next to their counterparts from Britain, where amateur and professional women’s camera work attained unparalleled levels of achievement and variety. This talk will give some keys to understand the disparities in the development of women’s photography in the different countries. It will also highlight previously unpublished or little-known photographs that help appreciate how a practice that has long borne the hall-mark of femininity actually revealed itself to be a potential vehicle for subversion and emancipation.

    Elizabeth Edwards (DeMontfort), Collecting Our Past: Photographs, History and the Free Public Library 1890-1914
    Thursday 19 November 6-7:30, Room B04 (Basement Lecture Theater)

    Image: Croydon Library

    From the late C19th until the digital revolution collecting photographs of local historical interest was a major function of local collections in English free public libraries. This paper considers the confluence between the emergence of these local studies libraries, amateur photographic survey, and the adoption of open access public libraries in the UK.  It argues that it is no coincidence that these three strands are interconnected because all are concerned with the expansion and democratisation of both the production and consumption of local historical knowledge.  Such movements have a long history, back to the amateur antiquarians of the 17th and 18th centuries, but they were transformed through the commitment to mass education, as an increasingly large section of the population had to produced as citizens within a democratic society.  Access to a sense of the historical past was part of this. I shall explore the role of photographs in the development of the concept of 'local history' for all in public libraries and how the intellectual and material practices of the library ‘performed’ this sense of history for all through the collecting of photographs.

    Seminar: A medium for visual ‘cultivation’
    Anna Dahlgren (Stockholms universitet)

    Thursday 15 October, 6 - 7:30 pm, Room 112


    Photo: Nordisa museet

    This project explores the function and meaning of the nineteenth-century photo album within a broader context of cultural and media history.

    A central hypothesis is that the photo album can be understood in relation to other media that have been used to collect, arrange, exhibit, and view pictures. The photo album served both individual and societal ends. For the individual, it was a pleasure and a pastime, while also serving as an efficient instrument for the spread of contemporary scientific, social, and political ideologies for the benefit of society at large. The album was a multi-faceted apparatus for visual training; simultaneously private and public, fiction and reality, utility and enjoyment.

    In this talk, some examples were presented of what and how knowledge was communicated through this visual medium.


    Summer term

    Panel Discussion: Photographs of London (Wednesday 20 May 2015)

    St Paul's

    Photo: Herbert Mason, 'St Paul's', 29 December 1940 (Daily Mail)

    Tom Allbeson (Durham) on Herbert Mason, 'St Paul's', 29 December 1940; Lynda Nead on Bert Hardy, ‘Life in the Elephant’, Picture Post, January 1949; Ian Walker (Newport) on Thomas Struth, ‘Clinton Road’ 1977; Responding: Mike Seaborne (Museum of London). This talk was presented at Arts Week 2015.

    Tuesday 12 May: Reading Group

    Jacques Derrida, ‘The Deaths of Roland Barthes’, The Work of Mourning (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001) 31-67

    Work in Progress Seminar: Wednesday 6 May

    Raul Valdivia (Birkbeck, Iberian and Latin American Studies), Popular or vernacular photography in Peru


    Photo: Rosa Villafuerte

    This paper explores how the act of photographing the ‘masas populares’ by the masses themselves is part of a representational process where aesthetic and political elements are combined to create counter-hegemonic visual narratives and histories from below.

    Spring term 2014

    Seminar: Not Harry Gresham:  Why Helmut Gernsheim's Jewishness matters, Michael Berkowitz (Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL) - Tuesday 24 March

    Seminar: Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860, Carol Jacobi (Tate Britain) and Hope Kingsley (Wilson Centre for Photography) - Tuesday 10 March

    Salt & Silver

    Carol Jacobi and Hope Kingsley talked about the aesthetics and reception of salted paper prints in the nineteenth-century, and the experience of curating an exhibition of these rare early photographs in the twenty-first.

    Seminar: Historical Depiction in Contemporary Photojournalism, Benjamim Picado (Fluminense Federal University, Brazil) - Friday 20 February 2015

    This paper examines how photojournalism has established itself as a privileged site for the testimonial representation of historical events, via tropes such as intensified actions, destroyed landscapes and portraiture of suffering. These generate a sense of visual witnessing that is more important than the particularities addressed by the photographs. Starting from the exemplary case of the most recent awards given by the World Press Photo, the paper goes on to discuss images that point to an alternative way to depict history, marked by a sense of deceleration, distancing and de-dramatization of the photographic moment.

    Postgraduate Reading Group - Wednesday 18 February

    Discussion: Allan Sekula, ‘Between the Net and the Deep Blue Sea (Rethinking The Traffic in Photographs)’, October 102 (Autumn 2002), 3-34.

    Autumn term 2014

    Artist’s talk: Susan Butler, 92 Million Miles from the Sun - Tuesday 9 December 2014

    Butler shadows

    Gallery talk on the work and the experience of curating a video projection.

    Work in progress seminar: A. L. Coburn's photographic autobiography as an instrument of 'ennoblement', Cathrin Hauswald, Universität Konstanz - Wed 17 December 2014

    This paper is part of a larger project tracing the development from pictorialism to abstraction in photography at the beginning of 20th century. It focuses on Coburn’s self-portraits and in his autobiography, to show how these strategies of self-expression function as means to inscribe himself in the history of photography.

  • 19 November 2014: Introducing and exploring the Jo Spence Memorial Library



  • 19 June 2013: Panel on Sport and Photography
  • 17 June 2013: Reading Group
  • 9 May 2013: Seminar: The Making of a Cloud Observer
  • 1 May 2013: Reading Group
  • 11 March 2013: Lecture - Louise Purbrick, 'Traces of Nitrate' at 6:00-7:30pm in Keynes Library
  • 4 February 2013: Advents: Photographs found in the street in the first decade of the twenty-first century

Jo Spence: The Feminist Photography of a Cultural Sniper

Jo Spence was a British writer, educator and photographer – although she was quite ambivalent about being termed an ‘artist’. In fact, she much preferred to call herself a ‘Cultural Sniper’. But instead of brandishing a gun, Spence used her camera to shoot and expose issues in culture.

One of the first woman photographers to confront the anxiety of seeing oneself in photographs, this HENI Talk explores how Spence targeted the media’s representation of women – always coded as young, plucked and perfectly made-up – by laying her own body on the line.

Learn more.