An Introduction To Mug
The photographing of criminals for identification purposes began shortly after the invention of photography in 1839. "In November 1841, the Munchen Morgenblatt reports: "The Paris Police now have daguerreotypes of the features of all criminals passing through its hands and attaches these portraits to the respective reports. When set free and suspected of a new crime, the portrait is shown to all police officers, who seek out their man.(Tuttle, p.6). The Philadelphia Public Ledger of November 30, 1841 also had something to say on the matter of photographing criminals:
These early attempts at photographing criminals were certainly not as well organized as the news report in the Ledger suggests. The first efforts at making photographic records of criminals were probably done more for their novelty value rather than for the serious purpose of identification. Little thought had been given as to how this new technology might be used in the battle against crime. Therefore, no systematic procedure yet existed for the recording, classifying, or distributing of the information gathered. However, isolated examples of early photographs of criminals continued to be taken.
A few far sighted men did indeed recognize the role photography might
play in the area of criminal identification. With the widespread appearance of photography
in general the use of photography in criminal investigation and identification expanded. A
great deal of information and images were being gathered however, there was no system yet
in place to make the information manageable and useful in the area of crime detection and
prevention. An effective classification system was finally developed by Alphonse Bertillon
in 1882. Bertillon combined criminal identification photographs with physical measurements
of the subject. Soon detectives began to rely upon photographs as the major method of
criminal identification. However, this method was not infallible and mistakes did occur.
With the development of fingerprint identification as an absolutely reliable method of criminal identification in 1897, mug shots took their place as an important adjunct in the process of identifying criminals.
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Richard T. Rosenthal
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July 05, 2013
An assortment of 19th
and 20th century photographs
Copyright © 2000