Archival Mug Shots

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.”

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