The mugshot market

The Winter 2019/2020 issue of Source magazine contains an article by Orla Fitzpatrick which investigates the growing market in sales of mugshots. I found the article interesting and after digging around a bit more I came across a documentary called Mugshot. Mugshot delves a bit deeper into the cultural significance of the mugshot and whilst it has a primarily North American focus I found it relevant nonetheless.

In the US it is common practice for police departments to publish mugshots regardless of guilt of the subject. This has led to numerous publications and websites which have monetised the mugshot images in both trivial and non-trivial ways. The documentary highlighted the main privacy issues and showed the difference between how the images are openly used in the US whilst across the border in Canada they are not allowed to be used until guilt is proven.

One of the most interesting features of the docmentary was the Small Town Noir website which is published by a Scottish collector of historical mugshots. From the website ‘About’ entry “The men and women in these mug shots are nobody special, but they saw things that none of us will ever see. They were all arrested in New Castle, a small town in western Pennsylvania, right over by the Ohio border. It was once one of the most industrially productive cities in America, but all that’s gone now.” The website goes behind the photographs and details the story of the subject of the mugshots.

The author has gone into incredible details for each of the images – giving us details not only of the incidents that gave rise to the mugshots being taken, but the aftermath and the subsequent lives of the subjects. In one of the post regarding Fioravante Pisano he writes, “The police arrested Fioravante Pisano because he’d fired a gun in his basement. His wife, Amelia, thought he was going to kill himself. They charged him with a firearms violation and took his photograph when they booked him, but let him go once he’d calmed down. No harm done, and it was Valentine’s day.

Fioravante had been sick and depressed for a long time. Things hadn’t been good since the war. He and his brother Joe had been sent to New Guinea, which Joe said was an unhealthy place for whites, with rain all year and too many jungles and insects—“a hellhole if ever there was one.” Fioravante was sent back to America early in 1945 with a bad case of malaria while Joe stayed out there and got shot in the neck by a Japanese sniper. Joe got better and went on to fight in the Philippines, but Fioravante couldn’t shake his illness. It came and went and left him too weak to do much.”

The mugshot alone suggests Pisano was guilty of some unnamed crime but he was never charged with anything. He was a solider in the US army who suffered from depression. We assume guilt simply because of a photograph which is taken in a particular format.

References

Fitzpatrick, O. (2019) ‘The Mugshot Market’ In: Source Photographic Review – Issue 100 Winter 2019.

Mogg, D. (2018) Fioravante Pisano, “Firearms Act”, 14 Feb 1951 At: https://smalltownnoir.com/2018/01/26/fioravante-pisano-firearms-act-14-feb-1951/ (Accessed 07/06/2020)

Mugshot (2014) Directed by Mohr, D. [TVO] At: https://www.tvo.org/video/documentaries/mugshot (Accessed 23/05/2020)

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