How an Australian museum is preserving those viral historic mugshots


posted Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 2:02 PM EST


By now you've probably seen the incredible collection of mugshots of 1920s mugshots from the Sydney Police Department—they've been doing the rounds for the last few years, and every now and then they pop up again on our news feeds. But have you ever stopped to wonder what's happened to the originals? It turns out the New South Wales Police Forensic Archive, as it's known, is being held by Sydney Living Museums, and they're doing everything they can to preserve and restore the negatives.

The images are shown as part of an exhibit called the City of Shadows, but there's a lot more to it than just the handful of mugshots that have been doing the rounds. As reported by the Phoblographer, the museum has put together a trio of YouTube videos exploring the photographic records, and how they're preserving them.

The images run across approximately 50 years of time, from the 1910s to the 1960s, starting with large, natural light, glass-plate negatives, and going on to more recent 35mm film. Up until the museum received them, they were stored in boxes in a warehouse, that eventually flooded, leaving many damaged, and decidedly worse for wear. Also, lacking any real catalog in place, the contents each box of negatives was a surprise.

It's interesting that these photos have so grabbed the attention of the public—usually historical records like this don't hold quite as much interest. But there's something about these large format negatives of early criminals that have captured the attention of many. And it's fantastic to see Sydney Living Museums doing everything they can do digitize and preserve the photos.

For more on the individual photos, and their subjects, check out the City of Shadows blog.