July 2, 2009 / 6:26 AM / 10 years ago

Sydney forensic photo exhibit shows beauty in mayhem

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - The subjects are dark, the black-and-white images stark, but visitors to an exhibit of old forensic photographs in Sydney will also be confronted by beauty, and a historical side of the city rarely seen.

“Archival Exposure: Illuminating a Dark Past,” on display at the Justice and Police Museum, comprises 42 images reminiscent of the classic “film noir” movies of Humphrey Bogart.

The pictures, printed from a collection of 130,000 negatives rescued from a flooded warehouse, were taken by forensic police photographers from 1912 to 1964 and used as evidence in court. They were never intended to be seen by the public.

“I think a lot of people are really surprised and intrigued by the beauty of the images,” Holly Schulte, the exhibition’s assistant curator, told Reuters.

“A lot of the photographers of the time were going to beautiful places like Bondi and photographing the Harbour Bridge construction,” she said. “The police photographers didn’t have that aesthetic, but they show so much about Sydney’s past.”

The images provide a rare insight into the job of a forensic photographer, who needs to have stamina as well as a rational gaze and a steady hand.

There are criminals and victims, blood-stained bedrooms, secret hideouts in the city’s underbelly as well as main streets in the images that also highlight the artistic touch of many of these photographers, who managed to produce compelling images when confronted by murder and mayhem.

In pictures such as “Fatal Traffic Accident,” viewers can see rain-slicked moonlit streets reflected in the car’s headlamp. An atmospheric shot of a shadow-filled backyard still sends shivers down the spine of viewers today.

“You get a real sense of what photographers were faced with. Some of the images are so confronting,” Schulte says.

“For me, it’s the image of the photographer who has been captured in the reflection of a bedroom mirror. You see him at work, camera set up and he appears very calm.

“But when you look across at what he’s actually photographing, that bedsheet with the bloodstains and the gore, you can only imagine what happened there,” she said.

The exhibition runs until July 26.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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