Hard looks: faces, bodies, lives in early Sydney police portrait photography

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The subjects of the "Special Photographs," as they were then called, typically slouch, cringe, or stand with arms folded and legs astride, or with chins thrust out, or hat brims pulled low over their faces. In image after image in the collection, we detect an unarguable, bracing, and wholly anomalous liveliness in the subjects, and in many, a sense, perhaps illusory that the image has captured a moment of exchange between photographer and subject. The year 1919, when the Special Photographs effectively begin, was a time of rapid growth, upset and change in Sydney. As for the everyday uses of Special Photographs, indications are that police photographers ran off simple contact prints from the negatives, cropped them to postage-stamp size and then distributed them as needed. A photographic portrait may have been fastened into a locket, breast-pin, or other piece of Victorian-era "photo jewellery".
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhotography and ontology
Subtitle of host publicationunsettling images
EditorsDonna West Brett, Natalya Lusty
Place of PublicationNew York ; London
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781351187749, 9781351187756, 9781351187732, 9781351187725
ISBN (Print)9780815374299
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge History of Photography


  • photography
  • mugshots
  • crime
  • criminals
  • Sydney


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