Redactions 1:1 - 1:2

A1 poster and A6 book

In a circular letter to the governors of Her Majesty’s Gaols, dated December 1854 and entitled Photography as an aid to the administration of criminal justice, James Anthony Gardiner, then Governor of Her Majesty’s Gaol, Bristol, argued for the advantages of the use of photography in the administration of criminal justice. The problem, as he saw it, was that there was no way of knowing whether an offender presented to his gaol for the first time had committed a previous crime elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The solution that appealed to Gardiner, and which he recommended to his fellow governors for “general adoption throughout the kingdom”, was the use of photography, because, “I might in scores of cases, even without the knowledge of the prisoner, procure his likeness, a very icon of himself, of which, being capable of multiplication to any extent, I might transmit a copy to wherever it might promise to lead to useful results.”  He went on to describe how, after twelve months of operation, he had perfected a system of photographing prisoners, reporting that by its means he had brought to justice several hardened offenders, who “being unknown in my neighbourhood, would otherwise have escaped with inadequate punishment.” He had achieved these successes by forwarding images of prisoners who had come into his charge to “several places”, thereby obtaining information of their previous convictions elsewhere.  As far as Gardiner was concerned, the photograph provided a means of attaching a set of criminal records to a single offender.

In an article under the heading Photographing prisoners in The Photographic News: A Weekly Record of the Progress of Photography, Volume 10, November 2nd 1866, 524-525, the unidentified author acknowledges the photograph's “literal fidelity in rendering facts” and Gardiner’s ambition “to secure sun drawings of his enforced guests,” solely for the purposes of identification, but then proceeds to read example photographs in terms of what they have to tell us about the individuals photographed: “Not all brutalized, or besotted, or sinister; not all with the forehead villanous low, the square jaw, the coarse mouth, or the eye of wild beast; but in more cases a weak and weary, or a craven and humbled look. Some of the faces remind us painfully of another series of portraits, taken by Dr. Hugh Diamond, of insane persons, and suggest to us the connection between diseased morals and diseased minds, between crime and insanity. Physiognomy, to the careful observer, may often, doubtless, indicate tendencies of character, and suggest phases of mental history. None of the portraits before us look intellectual, or suggest culture; they are mostly of a low type; but there is nothing to suggest the dogged, resisting, vindictive beings, with overhanging felon-brow and sunken cruel eyes, which sensation writers at times attribute to the criminal classes. They are rather examples of God's image degraded and enfeebled by neglect; plants which resemble weeds, because left without culture. The only portrait marked as that of a murderer is that of a weak but not imbecile-looking old man, the mildest in expression amongst a score of criminals."

Whilst Gardiner’s plan was not immediately adopted nationally, enactments were made in the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871, Chapter 112, 34 and 35 Vict, with a view to the photographing of criminals as a means of facilitating their identification. Many of the thousands of prison photographs demanded under the Act are now held in the British National Archives and have already been copied and uploaded onto web sites, such as, thus adding to the already large number of mugshot web galleries, blogs, etc., and newspaper articles dealing with the subject. Often the power of this material seems to be what it suggests about the characters of the depicted individuals and/or the times in which they lived.

Redactions 1:1 – 1:2 is a work in two parts that plays with the two ways of reading outlined above: Redactions 1:,1, a poster, invites the viewer to participate in a process of identification (in the gallery space the poster is further redacted such as to present an additional problem to the viewer); Redactions 1:2, a book, plays on the suggestive potential of the juxtaposition of text and image.

Redactions 1:1 poster

Front cover of Redactions 1:2

A double-spread from Redactions 1:2

Images by courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives, document TWAM ref PR.NC/6/1.

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