I found that beautiful early film about resistance to a mugh shot: „A Subject for the Rogue’s Gallery“ (1904) American Biograph Company; cameraman/director A.E. Weed.
Research trip to the „Musée de la Préfecture de Police“ in Paris/France, January 2015
The museum of the police prefecture of Paris is located in the centre of town. It is only a five minute walk from the “Ile de la Cité”, the central court of Paris and the historical Prefecture where in nineteenth century Alphonse Bertillon resided in the upper stories as the head of the department of judiciary identification. The museum is however not housed equally grandiose, but in the third storey of a post-war concrete building. Already in the forecourt a sombre looking police officer blocks my way, the secret parole “museum” changes his expression and he leads me through a door. Here again, in a dark waiting room, ripe with the smell of the self-service coffee machine, faded posters of police announcements and wanted posters, I am lost. Another obstacle, this time a desk manned by a team of officers, has to be overcome before I am granted access to the elevator.
Right opposite of the entrance door to the museum there’s a section on the “Scientific Police”, mainly on Bertillon’s work. An accumulation of framed photographs and texts as well as objects introduces the development of identification and scientific police work. Among these are reproductions of historical photographs, of the process of taking anthropometric measurements, the archive of the Bertillonage records, tables for the portrait parlé, as well as crime scene photographs and reproductions of fingerprints. A huge enlarger takes up much of the space, but leaves room for a staged photo shooting – wooden posing chair and historical camera. Two puppets are representing a seated suspect under the gaze of a photographer whose face is clearly modelled on Bertillon – here he is the “Father of Scientific Detection” standing right in front of me, but slightly stiff. Another puppet operates a small wooden ordering cabinet for the Bertillonage identification cards, as it was used in the introductory phase of the new technique of biometric identification. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the records filled endless rows of shelves in the former police archive and a team of clerks were employed to order and retrieve the identification cards. Some of the cards and judiciary photographs are now kept in the archive of the Police Prefecture that I could visit on my last trip to Paris. In a corner a suitcase of instruments for taking the eleven anthropometric measurements of the Bertillonage rests in a vitrine.
When I arrive at the museum for a second time and ask for an appointment with a curator, the staff leads me into a small office. Even though my earlier message apparently didn’t reach her the woman greets me enthusiastically, as if she’d expected me. The room is overflowing with papers, boxes, objects – like tidal waves this ocean crashes onto her table. Bertillon Exhibited weiterlesen
Research visit to Bedford and the collection of the earliest preserved judiciary photographs of Britain, Beds & Luton Archives and National Archives, London, July 2014.
Bedford station emits a small town atmosphere – a relive after the hectic London streets. I start walking in the direction where I expect the town centre and ask some people for the way to my hotel. It turns out to be more difficult than expected, but I meet an elderly man who is happy to help and join me. He tells me that this weekend there’s the big river festival. While we are walking – as it later turns out in the wrong direction – we get to talk about the city and he shows me some landmarks.
Turning a corner, we are suddenly facing the prison complex of Bedford – this is the place where the first British judiciary photographs were produced in the nineteenth century. The history of Bedford Prison dates back to the 10th century and the current prison was built in 1801, it has been expanded in 1840 and in 1990 when a new block was added. In the early nineteenth century state of the art prison included a turnkey’s lodge and cells for different convicts such as debtors and felons. Penal work was mandatory and a system of solitary confinement and silence was severely enforced. Meals were taken in the cells and also during work hours on the treadmill prisoners were kept separate. In 1840 the goal was enlarged and houses for the governor and chief wardens were attached. Just recently, in 2012, it was revealed that the institution has the highest suicide rate of all English and Welsh prisons. We walk on and when getting closer to the riverside the quiet atmosphere disappears. We walk past large crowds of people amusing themselves with music, food and drink. And there it is – my hotel – right in the epicenter of the festivities, fortunately my room faces the backside.
Early the next morning I walk to the municipal building where Beds & Luton Archives are located. The nice staff leads me to a table in a well lit room and produces a large, leather bound volume that holds the prison records and portraits of Bedford Prison. Visualising the Criminal weiterlesen
“Ambiguities & Asymmetries”, Review of the SSN Conference, Barcelona, 2014
The bi-annual conference of the Surveillance Studies Network 2014 takes place in the centre of Barcelona, on the campus of the University of Barcelona and the adjoining cultural institution CCCB. This year’s conference’s topic opens the floor to discussions of “Asymmetries and Ambiguities” in Surveillance Studies. The attention for the conference is unusual, not only in academia, as it becomes obvious in the comparably large number of 170 participants, but also in exceptional public and media attention. This surely has to do with the revelations of Edward Snowden and the so-called NSA scandal, which have proved true or surpassed the often dismissed observations of the surveillance studies community. Here especially “asymmetries” come to the fore: between an all-encompassing state-run surveillance assemblage, drawing on private sources, on the one side and disempowered individuals on the other.
In the evening panel discussion (videos available online) with Caspar Bowden (a privacy advocate and former Microsoft executive), Katarzyna Szymielewicz (human rights lawyer, Panoptykon Foundation), and Ben Wizner (Snowden’s lawyer) who is participating via video connection, these asymmetries become apparent. Ambiguities & Asymmetries weiterlesen
Research visit to the „Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris“
During my visit to the „Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris“, in February and March 2014, I am examining the material related to the work of Alphonse Bertillon, who is described as a protagonist of scientific police work and the founder of modern identification. Drawing on insights from social statistics and studies in human physiognomy, he developed a system of identification based on anthropometric measurement, additional descriptions and photography. I am here to look at his utilisation and development of the then still young medium of visual recording. In relation to my PhD. Project, especially his practice of depicting the face in the systematic frontal and lateral judiciary portrait and the technique of dissecting and re-composition of the human face in the “portrait parlé”, the verbal portrait, is relevant. Furthermore I am here to explore the connections between the modes of depiction in Francis Galton’s composite portrait and the recording and decoding of the criminal face as proposed by Alphonse Bertillon.
I am pushed to daylight by an escalator at the Station “Hoche” in the north-western outskirts of Paris. An overpowering smell of food and rotten fruit is in the air. On my way to the archive, I walk through a slightly run-down neighborhood, past an outdoor marked, a neglected shopping centre, take away restaurants. The archive has just recently moved here from the city centre, where it was housed in the buildings of the Police Prefecture. The new location is set back behind a green fence, only a small sign indicating that this seemingly small structure contains this huge historical archive. After the registration process, in which I am provided with an identification card, I am sent through a back door to meet the responsible persons for the photographic archive. A middle aged woman and an older man show me five folders full of paper photographs and reproductions, filed under the name Alphonse Bertillon and the headers “Identification Judiciaire” and “Affaires Criminelles”. While the latter include material on individual criminal cases, the former are those I am looking for. Archives de la Préfecture de Police de Paris weiterlesen
“Ambivalent Faces: Visual Endeavours of Identification and Typification from 19th Century Science to Today’s Biometric Recognition.”
Presentation at the 6th international Surveillance & Society conference (23.04.-26.04.2014) hosted by the University of Barcelona and supported by the Surveillance Studies Network.
When in mid-19th century photography entered science as well as criminological and administrative practice it was widely perceived as an objective medium of depiction and was used as a means for identification as well as typification. Not only in visual anthropology, also in criminology, visual types became influential in the description and classification of the human body and face. Ambivalent Faces weiterlesen
Review of the exhibition „La Traversée“ by Mathieu Pernot in the „Jeu de Paume”, Paris, March 2014.
The exhibition „La Traversée“ by Mathieu Pernot in the „Jeu de Paume“, Paris opens with a wall of photographic portraits: small and large-scale, colour and black and white. The subject of all images is a boy turning into a man over the time, offering glimpses into his life. The portraits of the Roma individual set the tone for an examination of concepts of sedentary and nomadic living life.
Entering the exhibition space, in a niche on the left hand side, a work compiled from historical identification documents, interviews and photographic portraits shows how non-conform, nomadic behavior was restricted through heavy police pressure far into the 20th century. The personal stories and artistic portraits contradict the externally prescribed identity in the signaletic cards and nomadic passes.
In another work, on an adjoining wall, the historical mug shots and documents are contrasted with a series of photo-machine portraits that the artist produced with the children of the Roma family he is working with since his university days. The self-portraits hint at the ongoing administrative pressure directed against the non-sedentary population.
This is not restricted to the distant past as a series of large scale photographs of today’s disciplinary institutions, prison yards illustrate. A series of portraits shows family members trying to communicate with the inmates beyond the high walls. These state institutions still extend their influence in an extraordinary manner on the non-sedentary population.
In the next part of the exhibition, this apparatus of identification and population management meets images of sedentary life in the 20th century, concrete housing structures, their de-individualising character, but also their increasing disappearance as overcome and no longer acceptable spaces for residence.
Photographs of a burning caravan and alighted faces of a group of onlookers terminate this circle of a description of society that goes way beyond the documentary realm. Mathieu Pernot is mixing and composing, comparing and opposing story threats and offers new perspectives on – and readings of – our pre-structured and often unquestioned realities of contemporary life and questionable strategies of upholding this status quo.
“Identifying Identity? Identification and Typification in 19th Century and the Formation of 21st Century Identities.”
Presentation at the conference “W(h)ither Identity – Positioning the Self and Transforming the Social” at the GCSC, Giessen University.
19th century endeavours of identification and typification, among others by the French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, have provided the basis for today’s intricate and interconnected collections of data on individuals – their body and face. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of their work widely influenced today’s means and practices of biometric identification as well as contemporary identity formation.
Taking portraits from the early days of photography as a starting point, the paper will examine the genesis of the practices and modes of visual representation and provide an outlook on contemporary digital archives of personal visual data. Here the ambivalent role of the portrait becomes obvious: on the one hand as a sign of voluntary and confident self-representation of for the first time large parts of society in the 19th century, on the other hand as a means of forced external ascription in practices of identification through the mug shot in police work. This technique of recording the criminal face is eventually extended to cover the whole population in IDs and administrative archives. These processes of visual development have gained new momentum through techniques of computerisation and automation in biometric identification that have just in recent years changed the pictures on our passports from smiling half-lateral portrait to frontal expressionless mug shot.