Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Usual Suspects: Old Sydney Police Mug Shots


These aren't stills or publicity photographs for a 1920s era gangster film. Instead, these astonishing images are actually mug shots and booking photographs from criminals arrested in Sydney and around New South Wales in the early decades of the 20th century.  

Apparently, the unnamed photographers working in Sydney's police station weren't contented with a simple pose against a plain wall when documenting these arrests. He, she or they thought it best to spend a few minutes posing these lawbreakers in a more tasteful way. 


The results of a few minutes of careful posing are these magnificent photographs you see here. Almost all of them are tack sharp, evenly lit and wonderfully composed.

These high quality images are available online as a result of a four year long study conducted by Peter Doyle. Mr. Doyle went over almost a hundred thousand glass plates and acetate negatives and these are just a fraction of the treasure trove of photographs he found and restored.


If not for the title and accompanying captions, you would think that these smartly dressed ladies and gentlemen were on their way to their offices or out on Sunday walk down the park. Save for a few pictures, there is little to suggest in the photographs themselves that these were convicts in a police station.


Going over a few of these images, it's not farfetched to say that these aren't just mug shots, but rather character portraits of the highest caliber. There is a certain kind of relationship between the photographers who were most likely police officers or professionals exclusively hired for the police station and the subjects who were guilty of different crimes.

Somehow, this relationship brought about by the presence of the camera makes for a beautiful and captivating set of images.


You can find more of these Sydney Police photographs and mug shots here (warning, the site is very image heavy, but it's well worth the wait). There is also a book available, entitled City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948. On a related note, you should also get Least Wanted and Prisoners: Murder, Mayhem, and Petit Larceny. If you have a few hours to spare, go over Peter Doyle's original essay on these booking photographs here.




43 comments:

Intraman said...

the guy on the left on the first pic looks really scary

The Angry Lurker said...

Those are great pictures, some of the people look like they don't seem to have a care in the world.

Fang said...

I love the way the names are written in the photo's, along with dates. Interesting

Dejch said...

om first pic are two gangsters for sure :)

fit4life said...

degracy looks creepy as hell

Banacek said...

Criminals seem different back then...

Trelin said...

Wow, very nice. All mugshots should be taken this way.

D4 said...

What an idea. You get to see them in a more normal habitat instead of the blank expression.

Dudemeister said...

Those were some proper gangsters back then. They'd cry if they saw what people are calling gangster these days.

BigMike said...

I saw these a few months ago and it bothered me how well dressed the criminals were...

Shutterbug said...

Nice mug shots! I love that idea! I wonder if I could get a job taking "mug shots" at the police station! :)

Dale said...

Wow, interesting, with them all suited up they look more like the detectives than the criminals and I'm surprised to see the women mugshots. I guess they can be criminals too though :)
Nice post
Dale

Reilly said...

amazing! love that picture

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Wow those are amazing, what a weird concept but the results are great.

MRanthrope said...

dude these looks awesome! The quality of these old images is amazing.

Dave said...

These are great black and whites.

Astronomy Pirate said...

This is a pretty awesome idea. But I guess taking photos back then was more of a unique experience, today they don't care if you look like you've been dragged through dog business before they take your photo.

Laughing Vault said...

nice photos, second one is my favorite

Rob said...

I wish people dressed like that again...

Malkavian said...

Ha they dont even look like the where arrested.

ChazWellington said...

agree with inraman.
i wouldnt expect any of these people to be criminals..

randomer said...

The majority look like nice upstanding citizens.

Sleemac said...

1920s: beating you up with style

Wintermute said...

I'm surprised they were allowed to do these photo, and im surprised the criminals agreed. But i guess its a chance to be made famous.

thenitefalls said...

Back then people dressed epic! Now not so much =/

Jacob said...

classy times...

Daniel said...

Impressive!

Speedy Ed said...

oh wow now that is a great photo !

Bart said...

that first guy on the left looks like a complete badass, his eyes are full of evil

DEZMOND said...

crime is written on their faces which just confirms my theory that criminals often have it all written in their facial lines and body shape.

Geoffrey said...

people wuould pay good money for thots like that to be taken these days. Truly epic.

Come At Me Bro said...

This is great!

Trolske said...

1st pic, guy on the left: his eyes are so dead Oo he looks like he has no emotions at all

Admin said...

Very interesting stuff!

jamiesaur said...

these mugshots are more interesting than the ones you see today.

HiFi said...

These pictures are very sharp. Makes me want to build a darkroom and develop my own photos!

jblogger45 said...

very great

Moobeat said...

awesome

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

holy shit the guy on the left is an orc

neo.enviro said...

Funny that people bring up that Australia was a convict settlement...look at the swagger of these crims!

ironchefman said...

Ah the old days of crime, where the criminals dressed up in 3 piece suits and were respectable...
Really nice antique finds!

Necroticism said...

Oh wow, so he just had to make his crappy job, but instead he cared about it and make this beautiful pictures. That's dedication and vocation!

BojanCo said...

Scary guy on the left. Ill give him my wallet no doubt about that!

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