Mugshot portraits

The National Archives of Australia opened an exhibition in June I had planned on getting to, but I didn’t get there before lockdown started, so I guess I missed my chance (scheduled to finish Oct 24th).

Underworld: Mugshots from the Roaring Twenties looks at the darker side of the 1920s through photos and stories.

What is fascinating is that in what apparently was an internationally unique move, the Sydney police photographers of the time took candid mugshot photos of suspects to try and help avoid prejudice when investigating the case further. So drug dealers, sly-grog purveyors and small-time criminals were photographed as if they were sitting for a portrait.

S Riley, K Whitaker and KB Lewins - suspects of a break, enter and steal in one of the special photographs taken in 1921. Picture: NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive/ Sydney Living Museums.
Suspects of a break, enter and steal in 1921
From: NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive

I think the stories behind them must be fascinating. My only hope is that the exhibition is extended once lockdown ends. Have you ever seen mugshots like this?

16 comments on “Mugshot portraits

  1. Giggling Fattie

    October 4, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    Awwww I’m sorry you missed it!! Is there not a virtual option while you are in lockdown? How much longer are you in lockdown for? I know your favorite time of year is about to start so i how you get to be out and enjoy it soon!!

    • No virtual option, but I am still holding out hope I might get to see it. Actually we’re over 1/3 of the way through spring already (it started on 1 Sept)!

  2. Clever idea. I wonder if it worked.

    • I’m not sure. I would imagine the stories attached to the photos in the exhibition would shed some light on that. If I do manage to get there I’ll report back 🙂

  3. What an interesting idea. I don’t think they tried anything like this around my parts, so this is a new concept. Hopefully they’ll extend the exhibition considering everything.

  4. Look at those dapper mugshots! I’ve not seen anything like that before. I hope you get a chance to see the exhibit!

    This post makes me think you may be interested in a book a friend of mine wrote about California’s Folsom State Prison

    • Wow, what a find in her Aunty’s cupboard. Although I am as curious as to how the photos and pages ended up there as I am about the history of the prisoners, lol.

  5. I have to wonder if it has to do with some leftover angst from Botany Bay being in New South Wales. Those that moat want to adjust the social outlook generally are dealing with former inmates.

    Oh well, I know I can dress up, put on a jaunty hat and be someone other than my normal weirdness.

    • Lol, dunno. These days most Aussies want to find a convict in their genealogy (I don’t have any), back then, who knows?

  6. As I understand it, the great-uncle was a bookie and went to Folsom to collect on a debt. He was given the box of photos and pages as payment. Crazy story, right?

    • Completely crazy (and I bet the box of papers and photos weren’t actually theirs to give!).

  7. Perhaps the exhibition will be extended or return, given that no one can go now? A pity there is no virtual version! I know the NGV is running some online events which I really must attend soon…

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