Forensic Photography

Mug Shot

When the television show CSI first started I was only 12. I can't remember when I started watching it, it must have been a couple years later. Though my memory is the easily confused type when it comes to dates. What I know for sure, is that I was enthralled by the show. I wanted to be a CSI! But it didn't take long for me to figure out that the job didn't actually exist. Atleast not the way they portrayed it on the TV. My high school self was devastated! And to be honest, it still makes me a little sad.

In the real world, being a "CSI" does not comprise of such a wide variety of skills into one job title. Most often each person specializes in certain aspects of it. There exists many different fields and specialties, included in them forensic photography. Forensic photography itself can be broken down into different fields, the two major ones being photo's of the criminals (better known to us as mug shots) and photos of the actual scene of the crime. 

It all started as a way to document criminals, with the first known uses being in Belgium and Denmark in 1843-44 and 1851 respectively. It wasn't until the 1870's that the trend started popping up elsewhere. It took an additional 20 years before someone sought to standerdize the system. In 1890 a french photographer by the name of Alphonse Bertillon released a book titled "La Photographie Judiciaire" (Judicial Photography) with proposed rules for scientifically photographing criminals. His standards are still what we see used today, and he is credited with the invention of the mug shot.

Bertillon is also said to be the first photographer to methodically document a crime scene. Unlike mug shots, this documentation allowed for a little more leeway with style and interpretation. This type of photography also involved the public more, as photo's of the scene started appearing in newpapers. People started connecting similarities in the photo's to their own lives, and the effects of crime became a lot more real. 

photo by Weegee

Although Bertillon is credited as being the first, a man named Arthur Fellig is probably the most famous of crime scene photographers. He went by the nickname Weegee, which he reportedly got because he seemed to show up at crime scenes before the police and other reporters. Although Fellig viewed his photographs as documentation, a lot of people called them Art.

Over the years new photographic technology has greatly advanced forensic efforts. Some may argue that we have become desensitized to violence and death by television and movies, but the fact remains that seeing a real crime displayed in front of us is still the most powerful way of expressing the reality of the situation. It is a very real tool for increasing awareness and obtaining convictions- perhaps someday it may help us negate the field all together. (Might as well dream big.)