Featured image: Leslie Louis Bernstein, 1929.
I might not want to be stuck in an elevator with some of its listeners, but NPR certainly unearths a few gems. Case in point: this March, they dug up a series of Australian mug shots. And they’re just so cool. They’re all from pre-1930s Sydney and are currently held at the Forensic Photography Archive at the Justice & Police Museum in Australia. Take this one, for example:
That’s Harry Leon Crawford, who married Annie Birkett in 1914. Turns out ol’ Harry was actually ol’ Eugenia Falleni, and had been passing as a man since 1899. Whoa, Nelly! Birkett obviously caught on eventually, told a relative the scandalous news, and turned up missing soon after. Crawford told the nosey neighbors Birkett ran off with the plumber – and her body was found in a Sydney suburb. Secrets, secrets indeed. The photo was likely taken on the day of her arrest, and the negative was uncovered in a paper sleeve labeled “Falleni Man/Woman.” It’s possible they made her dress like a man for the photograph – we just don’t know.
But beyond the classic noir, there’s something else about these shots: they’re 4-by-6-inch glass plate negatives. Now, that format’s favored by fine art photographers who dig the tonal depth, balance, and textures it affords. Back in the day, that was just what taking photos meant.
Check out the coif on this ne’er do well. He got 12 months of labor for breaking and entering. His write up states that “although he consorts with prostitutes and frequents hotels and wine bars, he is of quiet disposition.” Always the quiet ones. Wonder if he made the pages of Whose Hair…
The images re-emerged in 1989 and noble nerd Peter Doyle devoted two full years to tracking down information on the folks in the photographs. Keep in mind – these photos are from the 1910s and 20s – many of these scallywags were being photographed for the first time in their lives. Maybe that explains the unusual number of smiling faces. Or maybe the photographer was egging them on? No one has any idea who’s responsible for this quirky set of shots chronicling cheeky vagabonds and miscreants.
NPR’s Claire O’Neill gives a bit more cultural context: “These faces show the seamy side of Sydney — or, as Australians call it, “Sin City.” Jaded veterans were back from WWI, Doyle says, cocaine was rampant and a large percentage of the working class had immigrated from Great Britain. “Modernity swept through Sydney in the ’20s,” he says, which also shows in the clothing: Men were wearing three-piece suits and women were dressed to the nines in ready-to-wear outfits from department stores. It almost looks like something you’d see in a modern fashion spread.”
And lest you think the men had all the fun, I’ll leave you with a few shots of diabolical females. They were brought in for everything nabbing others’ draperies to running illicit booze rings. Learn more about this unusual collection and check out the rest of Sydney’s delinquents here.
Hazel McGuinness, Coke fiend:
Alice Sandford, Moonshiner: