THE BELMAN OF LONDON 1608 titlepage








BRIGANDS, van de Velde, engraving c1670








Tales of Crime -


The invention of the crooked narrative is a major issue for us. It can involve the invention of the assumed personality (as in Fantomas ) or in the invented scenario ( Lies ). It can be the artist who transmuted ( Marcel Duchamp ). It can be the designs of the Great Prestidigitator ( Welles and F for Fake ). Crime as an issue has been the basis of much of our creative activity. Who wants to scrutinise the motives of well meaning, beautifully balanced conformists in a world of harmony and obedience ? The word has rich possibilities in the attempt to understand the motivations of the individual, the group and our relationship to the State.

In photographic terms, the concept offers a wide range of possibilities in format and technique, in exploring narrative and sequence. The word "crime" can have personal ethical associations, not just crime passionel , but be manifested as the commission of a crime in a relationship.

1. Meaning: find your own way around the linguistic, ethical and legal possibilities, but the Shorter Oxford Dictionary says, 1. an act punishable by law, as being forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare (Commonly used only of grave offences. b.violation of law. evil or injurious act; a (grave) offense, a sin 1514. b.wrong doing.

3.Charge or accusation; matter of accusation. See also Criminal, Crimeless, Incriminate. This of course has set more problems than are solved. In what context is the crime committed? When is a crime justified, and by whom ? Is there an absolute crime ? Can a perfectly innocent act be a crime somewhere in the world ? Is the word 'crime" merely the disapproval of that group which holds the greatest power in society ?

2. Interpretation. Look at Roget's Thesaurus and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable ,The Screw Plot, The Ten Great Persecutions, Killed by Inches, The Know Nothings.

3. The Representation of Crime :

3.1 literary ;
Dickens, Zola and the Nineteenth Century Realist novel ( Oliver Twist ,Crime and Punishment ,Thérèse Raquin ), and the pioneer detective fiction of Wilkie Collins ( The Woman in White, The Moonstone ), exploring the cityscape of crime, the temptations besetting the individual in a variety of scales, from the consequences of individual confusion to the grandiose attempt to overthrow a whole legal code.

In the Twentieth Century , the rise of Detective fiction (the country house murder, see George Orwell's essay on the English Murder) and the Pulp Novel and the Hard Boiled Detective. The state of mind of the petty criminal, the psychological motivation of the agents of justice. The Surreal crimes of Fantomas the Evil Criminal and Master of Disguise who so influenced Magritte. See Fabulist accounts of crime by William Burroughs ( The Wild Boys, The Ticket that exploded etc), Charles Bukowski and American Lowlife crime, the bizarre embezzlements of Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls .
The development of crime reportage in the newspapers, the capture of Dr.Crippen, the execution of Dr.Landru the mass murderer, see Carey, booklist. In terms of reportage that tends to fiction, see Truman Capote, In Cold Blood ; Robert Bloch, Psycho .

3.2 the manufactured image :
painters have been less interested by the actual recording of the commission of a crime but more with the mythic overtones of murder, theft and duplicity, and the fascinating mechanisms of justice. The Bible presents a range of possibilities from Cain and Abel to crucified thieves. Particularly popular are studies of dramatic time, the moment when... paintings, the stabbing, the setting fire to, the moment of realisation of the true nature of the deed. Painters have also favoured the predicament of the prisoner, morbidly dwelling on the isolation, torture and despair of the prison cell, the Man in the Iron Mask, Piranesi's I Carceri, Wheatley's Mr Howard offering relief to prisoners, Prometheus chained to a pillar for stealing fire from the Gods, condemned to daily loss of liver from eagle bites. Think of Daumier's representations of lawyers, clerks and the full apparatus of the State's machine for punishing the transgressor. The celebrated criminals of the 18th and 19th centuries were often recorded by painters and caricaturists; Géricault, Cruikshank and Degas among others. There was a strong tradition of satisfying the huge demand for details about crime in the popular press and print industry, see Gretton, booklist. Remember Francis Bacon's use of the image of the Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichman in a bullet proof glass box when he was being tried in Jerusalem.

3.3 the photographic image ;
photography was directly involved with crime from the date of its commercialisation. see The First Image, booklist. Photographs were taken for identification and subsequent processes of law (the mug shot, the identification parade). There are photographs of the murderer Dr.Crippen escorted off the boat by police, and the covert snap of the Electric Chair. Photographers with high powered lenses have photographed the fabric of highjacking, threatened kidnap victims and bank sieges. A list of photographs of crime;

William Warnecke, The Shooting of Mayor Gayner.1910
E.J.Spencer, The Mad Bomber, 1912.
Tom Howard, The Electrification of Ruth Snyder, 1928.
Hack Miller, St.Valentine's Day Massacre.
Dick Sarno, The Trial of Bruno Hauptman.
Harry Hall, The Tossing out of Sewell Avery 1944.
Yasushi Nagao, The Assassination of Asanuma, 1960.
Robert Jackson, The Shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, 1963.
Boris Yaro, The Death of Bobby Kennedy, 1968.

The photographer most associated with Crime is Arthur Fellig (Wee Gee), and a documentary about his life will be shown during the project.

3.4 the filmic image; possibly the most widely acceptable consumption of the image of crime has been in the cinema, perhaps a catharsis of our fear of criminal damage to our persons and property. The gangster/crime film. The BFI study guide for teachers (Tom Ryall, established a set of categories;


1. the classic gangster film, ( Scarface, Little Caesar )
2. the FBI film ( G Men, Bullets )
3. the social background film ( Angels with Dirty Faces, Dead End )

b) 1940's
1. the film noir ( The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon )
2. the police documentary ( The House on 92nd Street )
3. the morally orientated gangster film ( Force of Evil )

c) 1950's
1. the syndicate film ( Murder Inc. )
2. historical reconstructions ( Al Capone )
3. the forties thriller reprised ( Warning Shot )

d) 1960's/1970's
1. the police movie ( Dirty Harry )
2. film noir reprised ( Chinatown, Klute )
3. the classic gangster film reprised ( Scarface, Untouchables etc.)

e) 1970's The Godfather phenomenon, Taxidriver .

f) 1990's the Mafia film phenomenon, Godfather III.

g)The Chapbook and Penny Dreadful



John Carey (ed) The Faber Book of Reportage Faber 1987

Thomas Gretton Murder and Moralities Colonnade 1980

Thomas Byrnes Rogues Gallery ,247 Professional Criminals Castle, New Jersey 1988 (originally 1888)

Stanley Cohen, Jock Young, The Manufacture of News Constable 1982 see The production of knowledge by crime reporters; Crime waves as Ideology; The determinations of news photographs; The social production of news, mugging in the media.

Gail Buckland First Photographs Hale 1980

Pam Cook The Cinema Book BFI 1985

A.Fellig (Wee Gee) The Naked City , Wee Gee's New York Da Capo NY 1972,3

Kellow Chesney, The Victorian Underworld , Penguin Harmondsworth 1974