Thu, 08 Nov 07 12:12:00
What do the faces of the old criminals of Wales say about them … and the society in which they lived and broke the law? In this year’s Lens festival of Welsh documentary photography, on Saturday 10 November, Prof Richard W. Ireland of Aberystwyth University will debate that the criminal portrait, or mug-shot, plays an important but neglected position in the history of photography, and Wales was the site of some significant early developments.
‘Photographs of criminals provide an interesting counterpoint to the ‘Sunday-best’ world of Victorian and Edwardian portrait photography, with its carefully composed subjects and elegantly painted backdrops. Here too is a world in which photography could represent, not an artistic diversion or a happy family memento, but a scientific weapon in the hands of those who sought to suppress ancient social disorders by modern means,’ explained Richard.
From the reproduction of the picture of the murderers Murphy and Sullivan in the Monmouthshire Merlin in 1850, to the tiny image of the scowling James Jones of Llanllwni, Ceredigion taken in 1858 (one of the earliest surviving criminal ‘mugshots’) and beyond, the Welsh engagement with the new technology is significant and memorable. But why were these remarkable pictures taken, and by whom? And why does the conviction of James Harris for theft of a bottle of whisky from ‘The Falcon’ in Llanilar in 1903 symbolise the entry into a different era?
Richard is excited by these images. ‘Quite apart from their historical importance, criminal portraits can be striking and vivid images in themselves: images often of a ragged and disturbing underclass whose contemporaries might have wished to see forgotten, but whose contact with the law has left, paradoxically, an enduring and sometimes moving record.’
Other speakers at the Lens festival include:
James Jones, Llanllwni: www.gtj.org.uk/en/blowup6/15565
Lens – People and Portraits
Saturday 10 November
10.30am – 4.00pm
£18 (£12 for students)
Register online or phone 01970 632 548
For more information:
Siôn Jobbins, NLW Press Office: 01970 632 902 email@example.com