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Alphonse Bertillon was born on April 24th, 1853. I call him “The Godfather of all things Criminally Photographic”.
Bertillon was the French criminologist and anthropologist who created the first system of physical measurements, photography, and record-keeping that police could use to identify recidivist criminals. Before Bertillon, suspects could only be identified through eyewitness accounts and unorganized files of photographs.
In 1883, the Parisian police adopted his anthropometric system, called signaletics or bertillonage. Bertillon identified individuals by measurements of the head and body, shape formations of the ear, eyebrow, mouth, eye, etc., individual markings such as tattoos and scars, and personality characteristics.
The measurements were made into a formula that referred to a single unique individual, and recorded onto cards which also bore a photographic frontal and profile portrait of the suspect – the “mug shot”. The cards were then systematically filed and cross-indexed, so they could be easily retrieved. In 1884, Bertillon used his method to identify 241 multiple offenders, and after this demonstration, bertillonage was adopted by police forces in Great Britain, Europe, and the Americas.
One of Bertillon’s most important contributions to forensics was the systematic use of photography to document crime scenes and evidence. He devised a method of photographing crime scenes with a camera mounted on a high tripod, to document and survey the scene before it was disturbed by investigators. He also developed “metric photography“, which used measured grids to document the dimensions of a particular space and the objects in it.