Understanding British Portraits (UBP) and the Crime and Punishment Collections Network (CaP) were delighted to collaborate in hosting this thought-provoking online session which examined the display and interpretation of criminal justice portraiture.

The theme of criminal justice portraiture covered the spectrum of the frequently replicated images of ‘mugshots’ held or displayed by police force museums or archives; images gathered during police work — for example surveillance photographs of the suffragettes; replications of mugshots employed for self-expression — see the National Portrait Gallery’s Peter Gary Tatchell, Queer Terrorist — or for commercial products; artistic interpretations such as Myra by Marcus Harvey; or ‘curated’ portraits of criminals such as Ronnie Kray drinking with Baron Boothby. The session also looked at the work of Koestler Arts and the self-portraits painted by their artists who have been, or are currently going through, the criminal justice system.

The following expert speakers explored complex ethical challenges around curatorial interpretation, access, consent, agency, individual rights or legacy which may be raised in displaying such portraits:

  • Corinne Brazier: Heritage Manager, West Midlands Police Museum. In focus: West Midlands Police mugshot collection.
  • Fiona Curran: director of arts, Koestler Arts; plus a Koestler artist. Portraiture as practiced by those in secure settings – the Koestler Arts experience.
  • Professor Helen Johnston: Professor of criminology, University of Hull; principal and co-investigator of Our Criminal Past / Our Criminal Ancestors. Arresting images: ethics, photography and the Victorian/Edwardian criminal justice system.
  • Jackie Keily: Freelance curator; exhibition: the Crime Museum Uncovered. Peopling the Crime Museum Uncovered: the role of portraits in personalising an exhibition narrative.
  • Professor Heather Shore, historian of crime and youth justice at Manchester Metropolitan University. Picturing Infamy: From Portrait to Mugshot.

The event was programmed by Dr Angie Sutton-Vane, Chair of CaP and visiting fellow in the History Department at the Open University, and was chaired by Dr Sutton-Vane in partnership with Professor Heather Shore.

–> Download the abstracts and contributors’ bios

With thanks to Art Fund support