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The mugshot began in the 19th century, becoming the best way to keep tabs on criminals before fingerprinting overtook it. Over time, mugshots have become something more: people use them for entertainment (just think of how quickly a celebrity mugshot will hit the news), as well as a form of art. The documentary, Mugshot, looks at the various aspects of what some consider art, and what others consider just a simple photograph.

Collectors have begun searching for some of the earliest mugshots, which tend to have a more artistic value compared to contemporary mugshots, and there are entire art exhibitions built around these photos. The film also explores the idea of privacy, looking at whether or not a mugshot is public domain or a likeness requiring rights paid to the subject.

It’s interesting to see the difference time makes. Nobody makes an argument against presenting mugshots from the early 1900s, using them in art exhibits, or even posting them around cities as some artists in Mugshot are doing. That changes dramatically when the film looks at “The Slammer”, the paper which exists only to publish the mugshots of everybody who has been arrested in certain local areas. Of course, those individuals are very much alive, and their sometimes relatively minor crimes can be overlooked by people reading “The Slammer”.

Watching the evolution of the mugshot is also fairly fascinating. Now, you tend to get a relatively plain picture, with an individual wearing an orange jumpsuit. The early 1900s mugshots look more like a photo a friend might take, if it wasn’t for the name and crime written above the image. There’s certainly an artistic quality to them, so it’s easy to see why people are fascinated by them.