Before the system of identifying
individuals by fingerprint was developed, the authorities relied on the
distinct, intricate hollows and folds of a person’s ear in order to positively
link them to a crime. Lot 16 in tomorrow's Photographs & Photobooks auction is an album from Folsom Prison brimming with criminals,
with each man arranged into a three-quarters profile pose. From this angle,
their ears are prominently positioned to allow for the eyes of the viewer to
focus in on their identifying feature before being drawn to grave countenances,
bold ID numbers, and then oftentimes down to sordid criminal histories inked on
the page in flowing cursive script.
A captivating study on its own,
this album is made even more so by the three binders of information that
accompany it. Inspired by their children, who used to request to be shown the
mugshot album as a special treat and would make up scary stories to accompany
the macabre faces within, the collectors tapped into a strong background as
professional researchers and unearthed articles detailing the nature of the
crimes for the majority of the men included in this rogue’s gallery.
binders are stuffed with copies of original newspaper clippings with drawings
and photo reproductions, as well as transcriptions of the articles. The
majority of the articles are from West Coast sources, but some men were
committing their crimes as far east as Chicago. The articles detail the specifics
of the crimes and, at times, follow the perpetrator’s background history all
the way to trial and onward. Many different writing styles are employed,
juxtaposing the terse, formal accounts with the more dramatic and splashy
This album is a remarkable piece of
criminal history, but the massive amount of research and information included puts it on a much higher level. It is very uncommon to find the backstories of the men pictured within, and unheard of to have this information for
nearly every single inmate.
Thanks to Alex Van Clief of our Photography Department for this post.
Labels: Alex Van Clief, crime photography, mug shot, mugshots, Vernacular Photography