After reading the article “Fenians in the Frame: Photographing Irish Political Prisoners, 1865-1868” by Breandan Mac Suibhne and Amy Martin, I was interested in the way that prison photography has an uneasy relationship with the traditional language of portraiture. As Mac Suibhne and Martin point out, Allen Sekula’s description of photography as “a system of representation capable of functioning both honorifically and repressively” is useful in trying to understand the tension present in these photographs.
The complete article can be found here: http://oconnellhouse.nd.edu/assets/39749/macsuibhnemartinfdr.pdf
I think that Figures 12 and 13, in which the men mock the idea of a mug shot, by adopting pinup poses for the camera are particularly entertaining.
I immediately thought of the very clever way that Andy Warhol played upon this tension in his infamous mural “13 Most Wanted Men”.
Warhol was commissioned to create a mural for the 1964-65 New York World Fair. His mural was extremely controversial because his choice of criminals as subject was judged to be completely inappropriate for an exhibit that was supposed to emphasize the positive aspects of American society. Additionally, many felt that there was a blatant homosexual connotation to these “wanted” men. After much debate, the mural was painted over, but Warol definitely made people think about what it means for the state to control photographs.
Collins, Bradford R. “Jokes and their Relation to Warhols ’13 Most Wanted Men’.” Notes in the History of Art. 17.2. (1998).