Friday, February 11, 2011

Portraits of Australian Criminals from the 1920's

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my attraction to photographs. In doing so I've realized that a well considered photograph of almost anything can hold my attention for a substantial period of time.  Concluding that the subject matter is not, for me, as important as is the consideration within image itself.  

Shinichi Maruyama
Though images, as well handled as the one above, of interesting subject matter are in themselves often successful.  I find that the subject of the photo is not key to its success. Here are some more from that (beautiful) series: throwing water.  We'll save that stuff for another post.

So on to the main event here.  These are images from the archives of the Sydney Police. They are now published in a book entitled City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948. While the subject matter is interesting on a number of levels. "what crimes did these people commit?", "They don't look like criminals..." and so on.  What really drives it home for me is the quality of each specimen.  The questions and statements above could be made about any mugshot taken today, but I am not that interested in looking at below photo of Fernando Camarillo (from the Chicago Tribune's "Mugs in the News" section of their website which is another terrible story altogether...) below.

Instead of using a view camera to document every detail of someone who traffics Cannabis like our friend Fernando here, or someone who took the life of another, we toss up a web cam attached to a computer or some equally poor image recording device and simply settle for what is easy.  My assumption is that people look at the mugshots in the tribune as a sort of outlet; to see who did all the bad things and to feel better than them for not breaking the law or at least not get caught breaking it. I am not entirely interested in seeing these images or when subject to one, I am certainly not willing to give it more than a second glance before moving on.  The images below, which are the same in purpose and function could occupy my time and thoughts for plenty of time, all the while I don't have the feeling that my time is being wasted as it does while I flip through mugshots on the Tribune's website.

I now urge you to spend a minute looking at some of these photos and if you don't find them appealing not only in subject matter but as objects themselves, you might at least ask yourself why we stopped dressing so beautifully as a population... These are criminals remember!

Thanks to Sarah for sharing the link to the story about these images (in french mind you).

Tom Harris

1 comment:

  1. Yes! My friend Brenna had posted the link to these earlier in the week and I've had them on my mind ever since. And I think you're totally right—they're so spellbinding because the photographer took such care with each individual portrait, bringing out both the specificity and general humanness of every subject. I find it hard to believe that any of them could be criminals, unlike the people captured in today's mugshots, which lack any sort of empathy or complexity.