Wednesday, 20 March 2013


There are bodies and spaces. The bodies – workers, vagrants, criminals, patients, the insane, the poor, the colonized races – are taken one by one: isolated in a shallow, contained space; turned full-face and subjected to an unreturnable gaze; illuminated, focused, measured, numbered and named; forced to yield to the minutest scrutiny of gestures and features. Each device is the trace of a wordless power, replicated in countless images, whenever the photographer prepares an exposure, in police cell, prison, mission house, hospital, asylum, or school. The spaces, too – uncharted territories, frontier lands, urban ghettos, working class slums, scenes of crime – are confronted  with the same frontality and easured against an ideal space: a clear space, a healthy space, a space of unobstructed lines of sight, open to vision and supervision;a desirable space in which bodies will be changed into disease free, orderly, docile and disciplined subjects; a space, in Foucoult’s sense, of a new strategy of power knowledge. For this is what is at stake in missionary explorations, in urban clearance, sanitary reform and health supervision, in constant, regularised policing – and in the photography which furnished them from the start with so central a technique.

What we have in this standardized image is more than a pictire of a supposed criminal. It is a portrait of the product of the disciplinary method: the body made object; divided and studied; enclosed in a cellular structure of space whose architecture is the file-index; made docile and forced to yield up its truth; separated and individuated; subjected and made subject. When accumulated, such images amount to a new representation of society.

From; Tagg, John, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988

Images from ledgers of police records dating to the 1870s found in an archive.....somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I now want to read this book -- thank you. I believe '' (I think that's the correct name) has just put exclusive scans of just these sort of 'mugshots' online but unfortunately I don't have a subscription so can't see them. Very tempting, though.