Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eerily Beautiful Mug Shots From 1920s Australia Categories: Daily Picture Show


Notice anything odd about this man?
Widow Annie Birkett certainly didn't notice anything odd when she married Harry Leon Crawford, above, in 1914. So imagine her shock when "Harry" turned out to be a woman: Eugenia Falleni, who had been passing as a man since 1899.

Three years after their marriage, Birkett announced to a relative that she had discovered "something amazing about Harry." Shortly thereafter, she disappeared. Crawford (Falleni) told the neighbors that Birkett had run off with a plumber. Eventually, a charred body was found in a Sydney suburb and belatedly identified as Birkett's. According to the original caption(excerpted below), when Crawford's second's wife was finally convinced of Falleni's true gender, she remarked, "I always wondered why he was so painfully shy ..."
The photograph shown here shows Falleni in male clothing, probably on the day of her arrest. The negative was found in a paper sleeve inscribed "Falleni Man/Woman." It is also possible that Falleni was made to dress in a man's suit for the photograph.

Everything about this seems too classically noir to be true. But the photograph, and true story, is one of thousands captured by Sydney police between 1910 and 1930. The following mug shots come from the Forensic Photography Archive held at the Justice & Police Museum in Australia.
It goes without saying that these are not like today's mug shots. For one, because unlike today's criminals, many of these people had never before been photographed. Posing for a portrait was kind of a big deal.
There's also the medium: These mug shots are actually 4-by-6-inch glass plate negatives. (Think huge camera with black hood and accordion body.) Today that format is used by fine art photographers who appreciate its tonal depth, texture and balance, and also its moodiness. Back then, though, this was forensics.
Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette in 1924 as charged, along with three others, with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" on a third woman.
NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette in 1924 as charged, along with three others, with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" on a third woman.
Novelist and curator Peter Doyle has spent a good two decades working with the collection. "It's kind of like photographic Pompeii," he says — an archaeological dig through crime scenes and other police-related ephemera. The mug shots, though, are a major highlight. "I've never seen photos like this," Doyle says, "particularly for that period of time, and that's the big mystery."
Mystery seems to be the word: Who was the photographer? And were they intending to be artful? Or sympathetic to the subjects? Why are some people smiling — ostensibly even proud? Little detail is known. In fact, when the photos were discovered in 1989, the only information that existed was scratched onto the image. Doyle spent years digging through police and court records and old newspaper files to match the names on the images with their stories.
Mug shot of Thomas Bede, Nov. 22, 1928, Central Police Station, Sydney. (On the image is says, "This man refused to open his eyes.")
NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Mug shot of Thomas Bede, Nov. 22, 1928, Central Police Station, Sydney. (On the image is says, "This man refused to open his eyes.")
Together these faces show the seamy side of Sydney — or, as Australians call it, "Sin City." Jaded veterans were back from WWI, Doyle says, cocaine was rampant and a large percentage of the working class had immigrated from Great Britain. "Modernity swept through Sydney in the '20s," he says, which also shows in the clothing: Men were wearing three-piece suits and women were dressed to the nines in ready-to-wear outfits from department stores. It almost looks like something you'd see in a modern fashion spread.
And that, 90 years later, lends a strange nobility to Sydney's criminal class. Without knowing the dark story behind these mug shots, you might think they were just regular folks. Maybe that's why Doyle called his book Crooks Like Us. Except these people seem to know something we don't.

The captions to these photos were edited for clarity; Originals courtesy of NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses of NSW. A few of the photos in the slideshow were also researched by Nerida Campbell.






























NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Widow Annie Birkett certainly didn't notice anything odd when she married Harry Leon Crawford, above, in 1914. So imagine her shock when "Harry" turned out to be a woman: Eugenia Falleni, who had been passing as a man since 1899.

Three years after their marriage, Birkett announced to a relative that she had discovered "something amazing about Harry." Shortly thereafter, she disappeared. Crawford (Falleni) told the neighbors that Birkett had run off with a plumber. Eventually, a charred body was found in a Sydney suburb and belatedly identified as Birkett's. According to the original caption(excerpted below), when Crawford's second's wife was finally convinced of Falleni's true gender, she remarked, "I always wondered why he was so painfully shy ..."
The photograph shown here shows Falleni in male clothing, probably on the day of her arrest. The negative was found in a paper sleeve inscribed "Falleni Man/Woman." It is also possible that Falleni was made to dress in a man's suit for the photograph.

Everything about this seems too classically noir to be true. But the photograph, and true story, is one of thousands captured by Sydney police between 1910 and 1930. The following mug shots come from the Forensic Photography Archive held at the Justice & Police Museum in Australia.
It goes without saying that these are not like today's mug shots. For one, because unlike today's criminals, many of these people had never before been photographed. Posing for a portrait was kind of a big deal.
There's also the medium: These mug shots are actually 4-by-6-inch glass plate negatives. (Think huge camera with black hood and accordion body.) Today that format is used by fine art photographers who appreciate its tonal depth, texture and balance, and also its moodiness. Back then, though, this was forensics.
Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette in 1924 as charged, along with three others, with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" on a third woman.
NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette in 1924 as charged, along with three others, with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" on a third woman.
Novelist and curator Peter Doyle has spent a good two decades working with the collection. "It's kind of like photographic Pompeii," he says — an archaeological dig through crime scenes and other police-related ephemera. The mug shots, though, are a major highlight. "I've never seen photos like this," Doyle says, "particularly for that period of time, and that's the big mystery."
Mystery seems to be the word: Who was the photographer? And were they intending to be artful? Or sympathetic to the subjects? Why are some people smiling — ostensibly even proud? Little detail is known. In fact, when the photos were discovered in 1989, the only information that existed was scratched onto the image. Doyle spent years digging through police and court records and old newspaper files to match the names on the images with their stories.
Mug shot of Thomas Bede, Nov. 22, 1928, Central Police Station, Sydney. (On the image is says, "This man refused to open his eyes.")
NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Mug shot of Thomas Bede, Nov. 22, 1928, Central Police Station, Sydney. (On the image is says, "This man refused to open his eyes.")
Together these faces show the seamy side of Sydney — or, as Australians call it, "Sin City." Jaded veterans were back from WWI, Doyle says, cocaine was rampant and a large percentage of the working class had immigrated from Great Britain. "Modernity swept through Sydney in the '20s," he says, which also shows in the clothing: Men were wearing three-piece suits and women were dressed to the nines in ready-to-wear outfits from department stores. It almost looks like something you'd see in a modern fashion spread.
And that, 90 years later, lends a strange nobility to Sydney's criminal class. Without knowing the dark story behind these mug shots, you might think they were just regular folks. Maybe that's why Doyle called his book Crooks Like Us. Except these people seem to know something we don't.

The captions to these photos were edited for clarity; Originals courtesy of NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum/Historic Houses of NSW. A few of the photos in the slideshow were also researched by Nerida Campbell.





Monday, March 28, 2011

Noir Bracketology in the Back Alley

Greetings Noir Bracketologists:

As a counterpunch to the NCAA's version of March Madness, I would like to propose "Noir Madness," a 64 film bracket to determine film noir's final four (and doesn't 'final four' already sound a bit noir-ish)

I have created a 64 film bracket based mostly on the top films noir rankings at the Internet Movie Database. In a few cases, I've had to supplement their rankings to fill out each bracket. 

Moreover, to help make the comparisons and choices between films made over seven decades, I have chosen to create four brackets of 16 films each. Those brackets are: The War Years (1940-1945); Postwar Period (1946-1949); The Fifties (1950-1959); Neo-Noir (1960-Present). I know everyone would likely have different periodizations, and/or a different list of films but I think the brackets should still appeal to most fans of film noir as fairly representative of the films from each of those periods. The #1 seeds right now for each bracket are: Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, Touch of Evil, and Chinatown. 

If you would like to see my entire 64 film bracket, please go to this Google Spreadsheet as a view-only document [please note both the spreadsheet and the poll should open a new tab in your browser]: https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?...cE&hl=en#gid=0

To start out Noir Madness, I have created an online poll using Google Forms. What I am thinking is that everyone who is interested in participating, clicks on the link below, and takes the poll (it shouldn't take more than a minute or two). Then I will use the poll to determine which films advance to the next round. That way, the winner of each bracket will be determined by popular vote. The poll is available here:https://spreadsheets.google.com/view...bHJDckx0X3c6MQ

I'll let this bracket run for a bit, and then post the second bracket of 16 Postwar Films.

Finally, I hope this generates some discussion about these films and why one film is picked over another. Especially if there are some big "upsets" here, such as a much lower ranked film taking out a top seed. 

Let the games begin. 

Best, Richard Edwards
Co-Host, Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir Podcast


Noir Madness Bracketology: Round Three

You know the drill...vote for one film in each matchup. The film with the most votes advances to the next round. If you are new to Noir Bracketology, visit the Forum at Back Alley Noir (backalleynoir.com) to read about previous rounds and the previous winners and losers.
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