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Marvin Heiferman pointed me in the direction Tim Padgett’s Time article about news outlets’ adoption of Mug-shot galleries. Padgett remarks, “Mugshot galleries are increasingly popular features on newspaper websites, which are on a crusade for more page views and the advertising revenue that accompanies additional eyeballs.”


The example offered is that of Mugshots at of the St. Petersburg Times. The site even breaks down the prior sixty days of bookings into the age, height, weight and eye colour statistics of those arrested.

This exercise is as artless as one would think. The laziness of the filtering of information via an automated platform is matched by the disclaimer regarding mugshots’ accompanying text.

The news group has recognised this and produced these ridiculous FAQ‘s in advance of those booked being disappointed … or worse, misrepresented.

I was arrested but cannot find my mug shot. What gives? Our goal is to provide a complete profile for individuals booked into jail in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties. A complete profile on Mug Shots constitutes: name, photograph, booking ID, height, weight, age, gender, eye color, birth date, booking date and booking charge.

The majority of arrest records from the county sheriff’s sites have no problems, and we store them and make them available. However, on rare occasions, the photo we receive from the sheriff’s office is flawed, or sometimes the site does not make a photo available. We skip the records that do not have photos attached. You can always search for an individual on the sheriff’s site, but just because you were booked doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily show up on Mug Shots.

I was released and my record was cleared. Will you take down my mug shot? A sheriff’s office Web site maintains publicly accessible arrest records regardless of the disposition of any particular case.One principle behind Mug Shots is to mirror the sheriff’s office Web site policies closely. We provide links from every individual’s profile page to the detail page at the corresponding sheriff’s office site, which contains instructions about how to follow up on any particular case. Much like a county sheriff’s office, there are very few instances in which we would remove a mug shot from the Web site.

Will you fix incorrect biographical information? What if the sheriff does? One guiding principle is to mirror the collective sheriff’s office sites closely. However, sometimes the sheriff’s office site contains a typo or another form of incorrect data. We don’t alter the information that we gather. We do provide links from individual’s profile page directly to their detail page at the corresponding sheriff’s office site.

Continually-updated mugshot galleries continue a long tradition of crime-obsessed media and publics. They are the latest step toward the eradication-of-reason when interfacing with social transgression.

Internet “news” mugshot galleries now dominate a new, middle-ground of visual consumption; that wasteland lies somewhere between the dark pathology (and allure) of Weegee‘s world and the instant digital delivery of crime related stats (think Comp-Stat and the Sex Offenders Registry). They are bland.

These galleries are continuous, and unnecessary, visual feeds of societies’ constructed “bogey-man”.

Samuel F. B. Morse's Daguerreotype Equipment, by Thomas Smillie, 1888, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Samuel F. B. Morse's Daguerreotype Equipment, by Thomas Smillie, 1888, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Source, and more here.

Little Electric Chair. Andy Warhol, 1965

Little Electric Chair (Detail). Andy Warhol, 1965

Merry A. Foresta, Director Smithsonian Photography Initiative, informs,

“In addition to being the Smithsonian’s first staff photographer, Thomas Smillie was also the institution’s first photography curator. Interestingly, in 1896 when a formal Section of Photography was established Smillie was titled “Custodian” and the first objects he collected – bought for the sum of $23 – were the daguerreotype camera and photographic apparatus used by Samuel Morse, one of the first Americans to experiment with photography…”

When I saw the deathly familiar blue of Smillie’s cyanotype, I was thrown back to the electric hues of one of Warhol’s many electric chair prints.

From the rarest, unique image to the mass produced commodity. Both images of apparatus; both apparatus a steal on time and both definitively (institutionally) American.

The Smithsonian has operated Click! Photography Initiative for a couple of years now. They publish sporadically on The Bigger Picture Blog with a variety of essays about every imaginable application and interpretation of photographic culture in society. Contributors include high school kids to photography greats such as Robert Adams and a wealth of respected curators and educators including Wendy Ewald and Sandra Phillips. There’s even space for you if you wish to try you hand.

The project also nudged me back into the mind space and work of Bay Area heroine Carla Williams. Read her blog and your life will be better.


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