Time Out speaks to curator Kate Spinks about some of the dapper deviants profiled in the Victoria Police Museum’s exhibition of 1930s mugshots.
Why did you want to put together an exhibition of old police mugshots?
We have a number of photo-supplement books in our collection that are full of mugshots. Many, such as the book these images came from, have no further details about the person, their crime or conviction. In a way they have become a mysterious collection of unintentional portraits of some of Melbourne's citizens. I thought the images were quite evocative, even without any real detail about the people depicted: the expressions on their faces, their stance, their clothes and the bleak background of the police cells.
How did you choose which 'mugs' made it into the exhibition?
There were so many to choose from! The basic selection decision was based on quality of the photograph, a cross section of men and women, and a range of different crimes.
Have police mugshots changed over the decades?
Police mugshots have basically remained an unaltered form of identification that police use in their everyday work, much like fingerprinting. Developments in camera technology and the emergence of digital image capture have changed, but the actual mugshot itself hasn't really. The front and profile portrait continues to be the format that police use today if you are arrested.
Is it just us, or were crims much better dressed in the 1930s?
The photographs do provide an historical record of things other than criminals and the types of crimes common in the 1930s. The street fashion of the day for example. Suits and hats were common in the 1930s and on the whole everyday fashion was more formal – as the mugshots highlight. Something interesting we found when researching the exhibition was that car thieves, in particular, seem to be very well dressed – I can only surmise that it was a lucrative crime in the 1930s!