RARA-AVIS: hard boiled mug shots

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 21 Sep 2006

There is a gallery exhibition in New York that displays Mug Shots from a private collection. They span the century and cover the entire 20th century from coast to coast. Many of them could be used for cover art of a noir or hard boiled novel, by McCoy, Hammett, Joe R Lansdale, Cain, Robert Alter, Goodis, Thompson, or Edward Anderson. The collector scoured various sources, and perhaps even some trash bins of police stations. The photos are not of major criminals, but of people arrested, and on occasions not charged, for a host of crimes: petty larceny, prostitution, possession of narcotics, public intoxication, running grifts, auto theft, shoplifting, assault, and vagrancy. The latter apparently meant such things as not having a permanent address, or shopping in a dept. store while black or Hispanic, or in one case "not having a job and hanging out at beer halls." A black woman was "picked up on suspicion of being a dissolute person" but let go on lack of evidence. A shopper is descried as "a close-mouthed Negro who is probably stealing clothes." The faces are varied of course, but many show an anger that has cemented their features in an impassive stare. A few young guys have incredible pompadours of the 1940s; several are James Dean look-alikes from 1950s Texas prison. The most recent are of three puzzled and furious 1970s teenagers busted in Phila. for possession of marijuana. In several, the sitter is facing the camera so that a mirror behind him catches his/her profile; he/she seem about to turn and tell you their story. Just looking and reading the mug shots, you can write a story about each. One sad image is on a man in his 30s who ran a newsstand and was arrested while at work for possessing obscene literature (girlie magazines? Stag jokes? Scatological 8-page comics?). This was 1938. He was turned over to a postal inspector. So much for his livelihood, even if there were no charges filed. He is probably thinking that he sould have paid the cops the sugar they needed to lay off. He has sad eyes, a worried expression, a pug nose, receding hair, and his lips are tightly pursed. This is due to the fact, noted in the police description, that he has no teeth.

There is some info at http://www.stevenkasher.com/html/exhibitions.asp and http://www.stevenkasher.com/html/home.asp

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 21 Sep 2006 EDT