18 December 2007
"We have learned to be suspicious of the photographic image." This is the starting point of an essay written by Peter Doyle who teaches writing in the Media Department, Macquarie University, Sydney. (Scan vol 2 number 3 december 2005)
Over a four year research period, Doyle examined around two thirds of the pre-1950 section of the NSW Police forensic archive — around fifteen thousand glass plate and acetate negatives.
In the essay he uses a collection of police "mug shots" to examine the relationship between
- the subjects of the photographs and the camera
- the photographic subject and the police photographer
- the subjects "captured" in the photographs and the viewer of the pictures
Doyle writes: "As historical documents, as instances of an important type in the evolutionary history of the photograph, and as gripping images, the prison mug shots are clearly of great importance. Yet I came to dread them. The refrain of defeat and despair became increasingly oppressive. The affectless convict stare seemed to convey neither acceptance nor even anger."
Doyle about the picture above: "Among the most surprising are the many smiling subjects found among the Special Photographs, such as jaunty pickpocket and gunman Lou Sterling, a well-known crime figure of the 1920s"
Scan is an on-line journal devoted to the media arts and culture, hosted by the Media Department at Macquarie University, Sydney.