Friday, 30 October 2009

The Context of the Image and Sentimentalising Prisons

The Times ran a recent article that discussed images of well known killers in terms of whether their faces could betray the nature of their crimes. The article argued that when images of the killers are released to the public everyone tends to agree that there is something in their faces that is recognisable as the trait of a murderer but that if this were indeed true, crimes could be foreseen and prevented. Everyone is familiar with these images of convicted killers and in conjunction with the knowledge of their crimes we conclude that evil is visible and distinguishable on their faces.

From left to right: Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire Ripper), Fred West, Steven Barker (Stepfather to Baby P), Myra Hindley

Philippe Bazin’s images are reminiscent of mug shots. However it seems as though his images are intended to evoke sympathy and portray the humanity of the prisoners rather than re-affirm that there is somehow a difference in the way we look that allows us to distance ourselves from perpetrators of abhorrent crimes.

Philippe Bazin - Détenus

In fact in his series Détenus, the images of prisoners are so unremarkable that the spectator even empathises with them. Would this be true if we were made aware of the crimes they had committed? Or would their previously ordinary faces take on a more sinister air?

Is it right for artists to sentimentalise about prisoners? No matter what may have contributed to their reasons for being in prison, the vast majority deserve their punishment so it seems strange and rather naive that artists like Bazin are so keen to portray the humanity of inmates. I’m not suggesting that they demonise them instead but monochrome, close-up images of prisoners could be seen to be over romanticising the prisoner somewhat.

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