Reading the police file: interiority and the forensic artefact

Peter Doyle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay explores the challenges encountered in pursuing interdisciplinary research into forensic material culture, in particular the forensic photograph. Scholarly research projects which are also geared towards popular curatorial outcomes (public exhibitions, publications, digital media outputs) are subject to complex ethical and methodological considerations. Drawing on his own curatorial experience the author suggests that a major task in researching forensic material culture involves finding the ‘research question’ itself, or even more fundamentally, defining what precisely is the object of study. Arlette Farge delights in the revelations of everyday life offered by the eighteenth-century judicial archive, but what, the essay asks, of the more recent archival police matters, hovering on the cusp of memory and forgetting? In line with Farge’s idea that research may lead to a ‘remaking’ of the archive, the essay narrates the author’s experience of re-rendering, redescribing selected forensic images via the medium of pencil and charcoal drawing. It is suggested that the ‘research question’ and ‘object of study’ might be revealed, at least in part, via the manual acts and labours of such redescription, and the necessary long-term reflection and consideration such labour necessarily entails.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-538
Number of pages16
JournalLife Writing
Issue number4
Early online date16 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • domestic interiors
  • forensic narrative
  • forensic photography
  • police archives

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