Sample Art Essay Paper on Photography and Criminality

Photography and Criminality


The 19th century was a period marked with a big number of crimes all over the world. This was the time when there were no major developments and civilizations especially in technology to facilitate combating crime. In Europe, crime became rampant in the late 19th century whereby cities and urban centers were the main focus. Then again, it is in the same century when photography was discovered. Earliest photographs can be traced back to as early as the 1820s, but photography was applied in crime in the 1850s. European countries, such as Belgium and Denmark started documenting images of criminals and inmates in the 1840s. Photographic documentation in the late 19th century then spread to almost all parts of the world. People became more interested in photography as publications such as newspapers and magazines at the time began to attract their readers using images. Most countries then began using photographic images in identifying foreigners, and most importantly, criminals.

Relationship between photography and criminality in the late 19th century

Criminologists incorporated photo images as material evidence of criminality and degeneration. This led to the use of forensic photography whereby criminal information, crime scenes, and other pieces of evidence were documented using photos. Early civilizations in the late 1800s made it possible for photographic documentation to become widely accepted as the most accurate forensic identification. Also, photographs of arrested criminals and suspects commonly referred to as mug shots were taken in efforts to curb crime. Mug shots were taken to facilitate easy identification by those affected by the crime activities and by the investigators (Toohey).

How photography was used to regulate criminal behavior

Photography enabled law enforcers to capture images at crime scenes showing the state of the victims and the scene details. The photographs were then used by investigators to find possible clues as to what happened. An investigator would use the photos to identify possible motives of the criminals, their positions while committing the crime, and also identify other important information regarding the crime. The findings were then presented to the courts to facilitate court rulings by giving punitive rulings. While taking crime scene photos was important, sometimes it was not easy to catch fugitives. Photographs were therefore printed and circulated to facilitate arrests of criminals at large. These images were publicized in the form of posters, and the public were required to communicate with any law enforcement agency in case they had any information regarding the people on the photos.

            The 19th century saw countries develop their borders with other countries hence the need to regulate cases of immigration, which was one of the sources of crime. Criminal gangs penetrated borders and then went ahead to perpetrate crimes in major cities, and this required the governments of those countries to take a regulative measure. Photo images were, therefore, used to identify the people coming in and out of the country using the borders. Non-citizens were required to provide necessary documents allowing them to cross borders; otherwise they were arrested.  Regulation at the borders also enabled countries to stop the illegal smuggling of firearms into the countries whereby criminals used those firearms in their criminal activities.

Photography and degeneration

With the rise in the use of photography, most people encountered the discourse of degenerate individuals through the prism of visual culture. The popularity of photography illustrated accounts of the world’s peoples drew upon anthropological theories of progress and degeneration, the civilized and the primitive. Moreover; medics, psychologists, sociologists, and criminologists started the incorporation of photos as evidence materials of criminality, atavism, and degeneration (Biggs 4).

Contemporary examples of photo-based technologies

Global rapid developments in technology and civilization have led to a better level of photography. There are now more advanced photography devices that can produce excellent image qualities even from longer distances due to zooming and high definition abilities. This has taken forensic photography a notch higher through better crime scene images that facilitate obtaining evidence and enhancing criminal investigations. The current photography devices are also advanced in a sense that they produce digital images; hence they can be stored in digital form, as well. Forensics, can, therefore, have a common data bank where they can store all images relating to particular crimes for easy access and retrieval.

            While there are advanced photo devices, the main technology platform that has improved the level of photography is the use of the internet. Images can now be shared over the web using the various company and individual websites in efforts to combat crime. There is also the social media which has millions of users whereby law enforcement agencies can use to communicate and share images regarding criminal activities to the public. If it is a wanted criminal, the internet can, therefore, be used to share pictures rather than the traditional method of street posters. Other photography technologies are the use of biometric data devices to collect information such fingerprints and facial images of criminals in efforts to reduce criminality.

Works Cited

Biggs, J. “Degeneration, Gender, and American Identity in the Early Fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs.” A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University 3.1 (2013): 1-20. Claremont Graduate University. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <htt://>.

Toohey, J. “10 Bizarre Scientific Photographs from the 19th Century.” Listverse. N.p., 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.