While mugshots don’t make for the most flattering snaps, they do provide a valuable window into life and fashion in their time.
Taken in the years following the first World War, 130 mugshots of Sydney’s criminal class are now on show at the Museum of Sydney. Those chosen are a few of the best examples from thousands which remain in the New South Wales Police Forensic Photographic Archive.
Interestingly, these shots have retained their clarity and detail nicely, thanks to the fact that they were recorded on glass negatives, which stand the test of time considerably better than photographs.
Additionally, the photographer captured entire full-length body shots which allow us to remark at the suits, hairstyles, shoes, and other fashion trends of the 1920s.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and these ones certainly do so. The facial expressions and attire give an insight into the type of person and criminal these individuals would have been. Some appear the aggressive mobster type, while others cut apologetic figures after being apprehended.
During this period of police photography, entire body snaps were taken to make identification easier. But by the 1930s, criminal procedures became standardised, and local authorities adopted the now-common head and side shots we’re familiar with.
These pictures have gone unseen for decades and now Sydneysiders are being invited for a look into our shady past. Underworld – Mugshots of the Roaring 20s opened at the Museum of Sydney in early December.