Murder and mayhem have long fascinated photographers and film aficionados, and are also inextricably linked with collectors of vernacular photography. But, how did the mugshot become a fine-art collectible? For New York-based collector and curator Mark Michaelson the answer is personal. In an interview with the New York Daily News he noted, “I’m looking for photos that move me for whatever reason. From things that are terribly funny to things that are terribly tragic.”
Over the past 20 years, Michaelson has assembled an amazing archive of more than 10,000 mugshots and crime photographs. Trained as a graphic designer, he views these images with a sensibility that draws on both aesthetic and historical influences.
These images of American men and women whose crimes include running numbers to larceny to homicide to “incendiary” labor organizers. The portraits depict a range of socioeconomic types spanning the 1900s-1920s, from the bruised and handsome con man to the dapper, but scary hardened criminal. Interestingly, women figure prominently, as do a host of ethnic figures. While some face the camera with aplomb and guile, the posture of those arrested for petty crimes conveys shame and fear.