The use of photography by fledgling American police departments in the 19th century is a topic rarely explored. This talk by Shayne Davidson, based partly on her book Captured and Exposed: The First Police Rogues’ Gallery in America, covers the historical background of rogues’ galleries in America and includes the stories of some of the people whose photos are in them.
Her talk features numerous ambrotype and tintype photographs from the early St. Louis Rogues’ Gallery (1857-1867), now part of the collection of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Many of the individuals are unidentified, but those that are include shoplifters, confidence men, counterfeiters, pickpockets and a suspected wife murderer.
In the mid-19th century, many big-city police departments in America established rogues galleries to assist in the identification and apprehension of criminals, as well as a means of forcing suspected criminals to move to other jurisdictions.
The St. Louis Rogues’ Gallery was begun in October 1857, and the following month the New York City Police Department launched its rogues’ gallery. Unfortunately, the earliest NYC rogues’ gallery photos did not survive, however a book of salted paper prints, Rogues, a Study of Characters (circa 1857), made by Hungarian photographer Samuel Szabo, while he briefly lived in America, is in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Again we see with this group that the police were primarily interested in photographing people involved in property crimes, such as pickpocketing, shoplifting and burglary.
Davidson became intrigued with the Missouri Historical Society’s collection while doing genealogical research several years ago.
She earned a BFA from California Institute of the Arts and an MFA from the University of Michigan. A retired medical illustrator, she blogs about photography and crime at CapturedAndExposed.com. She is also the author of Queen of the Burglars: The Scandalous Life of Sophie Lyons.
Presented on October 10, 2020,