The Tyne and Wear Archives & Museum has just released a terrific set of mug shots from a 1930s. According to the TWAM site, the photos come from an identification book originally sourced from a junk shop. What I love about these photos are the split view poses struck by the disheveled yet handsomely dressed perps. Adding a touch of high art, several of the secondary views are out of focus or feel gratuitous – like school retake photos showing us the perp’s better half. Out of context, the mug shots read like casting photos for Fritz Lang’s M or the latest Engineered Garments lookbook.
Examine the cards closely and you’ll see evidence of a downbeat, Raymond Chandleresque portrait of crime and criminal behavior in the 30s (one that feels oblique and victimless). Targets include a depopulated sphere of clubs, warehouses, offices, and shops. My favorite M.O. (revealing a full character portrait in a few phrases) can be found on the final mug shot for William Jones (DEAD): “Shopbreaking. Uses various method of entry. Works alone. Plays violin outside public houses. Convicition in America for shooting a man.”