I am actually completing Master's Thesis on Lawson Homology. In order to do this, I am writing an appendix on Higher Homotopy Groups. Now, as you know, one of the most important Homotopy theorists ever is J. H. C. Whitehead and much of the standard material on homotopy groups etc. is due to him. So, in his honor, I would like to include in my thesis a picture of him. Searching on Google, I found the following (funny) picture of Whitehead.


Now I am wondering if there is some story or funny fact behind this picture. Any anecdote is well accepted.

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    $\begingroup$ Best ever off-topic question on MathOverflow! $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Rickard Jan 3 '19 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ This may get closed as answers may end up being primarily oswinion based. Gerhard "Can Think Of Other Reasons" Paseman, 2019.01.03. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Jan 3 '19 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ but note the following paragraph which states that he lived on a farm: "Whitehead's father died in 1947 and his mother died six years later in 1953. She had owned a small farm and when Whitehead inherited the cattle he and his wife decided to buy Manor Farm in Noke, north of Oxford. The farm was run mainly by Whitehead's wife but he took a keen interest in the farm where the couple lived until Whitehead's death." $\endgroup$ – j.c. Jan 3 '19 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Or maybe ham.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jan 3 '19 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman Obviously it is opignon-based. $\endgroup$ – Danny Ruberman Jan 4 '19 at 1:33

The first record I found of this photograph is in Oxford Figures: Eight Centuries of the Mathematical Sciences. Professor Michael Atiyah shares some recollections of J.H.C. Whitehead and his pigs:

See also an interview with Atiyah at Oxford Mathematics Interviews. (Whitehead and pigs enter at the two-minute mark.)

This might explain why Whitehead liked pigs:

Henry Whitehead, whose school of topology attracted scholars from around the world, was a keen pig farmer: he claimed to derive mathematical inspiration by scratching his pigs’ backs for an hour every afternoon.
source: Oxford Mathematical Institute Spring Newsletter

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  • $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity how do you remember in which video Atiyah said about Whitehead's pig :D :D $\endgroup$ – Praphulla Koushik Jan 3 '19 at 18:26

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