Friday, August 24, 2012

Mug Shots

Mug shots are compulsive viewing for me, but most mug shots that we get a chance to see in Europe are from the US. Going back to Billy the Kid, American criminals have been photographed and made famous for us Europeans to see.

A few years ago in Great Britain we had an anti drug campaign where mug shots of drug users were printed in newspapers and on posters. The mug shots were before and after types, showing the same person at their first arrest, then another photo several years later. Predictably the drug users aged horribly and lost all their teeth between arrests, but because of legalities in the UK the campaign only featured mug shots of American drug users.

Mug shots from Great Britain are altogether rarer. The mug shots below come from a police identification book believed to be from the 1930s. It was originally found in a junk shop by a member of the public and donated to Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums.

I don't know about you, but these British criminals look like fun to me. Affable and easy going, they're not my idea of reprobates, I'd be happy to enjoy a small glass of stout in their company.
Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums
Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums

The Suderland Kid

1 comment:

  1. One of the many series TIME LIFE books used to market was on the topic of the American West. The set was beautiful, bound in dark brown, luxuriously tooled faux leather. The seemingly endless parade of them arrived in the mail at my house when I was young, but the only volumes I ever scrutinized at length were those about gangs and gunslingers. This was long before the internet, and I lived in the boonies with nothing but the standard three television channels, so the mug shots and death shots of legendary criminals of the "cowboy days" were riveting.

    I also can't keep from looking at mug shots. The vintage ones are most interesting for many reasons, but I find myself stopping to examine modern versions as well. What fascinates me is how each person chooses to look at the camera in those circumstances. I mean, my goodness, in that situation I would have a most difficult time making eye contact with the lens; they would have to grab me by the chin to make me look up. And you can see that in some mug shots, the excruciating glance of shame. But you also see cockiness, bewilderment, boldness, cheerfulness, pride, sorrow, confusion. It's all there.



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