|Sidney "Pretty Sid" Grant. 1921.|
Dressed in their finest suits and ties with their top hats cocked towards the camera, these men and women seem to be posing for expensive portraits. But behind their tidy appearances are guilty eyes that hide some of the most sinister crimes policeman of the day had dealt with. These are mugshots of Australian convicts who were dealt with by police for chilling murders, robberies burglaries and other crimes in the 1920s and 1930s.
Australia's Justice & Police Museum has released 2.500 photographs of female criminals from the 1920s. The pictures of murderers, bigamists, bootleggers and prostitutes provide a fascinating glimpse into life in Australia in the early 20th Century. These "special photographs" were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney and are, as curator Peter Doyle explains, of "men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension".
Doyle suggests that, compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, "the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed - perhaps invited - to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics". The images themselves are of excellent quality, beautifully composed and in many cases, quite artistic.