Forensic, Artistic, or Both?

Art Scene

Forensic, Artistic, or Both?

Photography is a medium that doubles as both an art and a science. Some images function as a form of utilitarian record keeping, while others are meant to evoke human emotions. But what happens when photography that was meant to be the former steps into the realm of the latter?

An exhibition on display at the Italian Center for Photography in Torino titled, “Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence from the Holy Shroud to Satellite Images,” shows the duplicity that a photograph can hold. With a variety of case studies spanning 19th century crimes through 21st century world conflicts, the show is fascinating, thought-provoking, and at times unsettling.

Featured are early-1900s forensic photos from French criminologist and father of criminal photography, Alphonse Bertillon. The police officer and inventor of the mug shot is credited for standardizing a system of criminal identification based on physical measurements (later replaced by fingerprinting). Bertillon was known for his “bird’s eye view” approach to photographing victims in their places of death.

While Bertillon’s case images carry historical significance, viewers are also presented with larger-scale catastrophes. Before and after locational photos unearth the devastation of World War I bombings, while images of damage from the 2009 Israeli attacks on Gaza drive home the grim reality of “our dark side and our desperate need for certainties.”

“Are artistic and forensic photography really that different, though?” the curators ask. “The former has often questioned the actual verisimilitude between photography and reality, while the latter has made truth seeking and documentation its raison d’être.”

The exhibit, on display until May 1, 2016, is accompanied by a 240-page catalogue with 280 images. Check out a few photos below, and tell us in the comments whether you think they are as artistic as they are forensic.

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© Archives de la Préfecture de police de Paris.


© Paris – Musée de l’Armée, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais, photo Marie Bour

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© Ministero dell’Edilizia e delle Opere Pubbliche dell’Autorità Palestinese.