A Behind the Scenes Look at How These Early 1900s Mug Shots Were Restored and Preserved

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Images courtesy of the Sydney Living Museums. Used with permission and in collaboration

Earlier on last year, we got a massive scoop on a large collection of early 1900s mug shots found in Sydney and curated by the Sydney Living Museums. The gallery, known as the “City of Shadows” was such a success that the museum is deciding to have it return starting June 29th 2014. And in order to give people a bit more of a backstory, the company decided to release three YouTube videos on it. The Museum is offering a look at how the images were captured, the restoration of the images, and a look at the folks in the images.

And so far, they’ve got quite a collection and a full blog dedicated to it now.

Back in those days, images were often taken on plates coated with photographic fluid. But they were all in large format, and by the nature of large format, in order to get anything in focus you need to stop down quite a bit–sometimes even to f64 and below. Flash technology wasn’t what it was back then and so it was all done with natural light. Much of the photographic fluid and coatings ended up being at a very low ISO.

Later on though, the formats became smaller (8×10, 4×5, etc) and it became easier for the photographers to be able to take pictures.

Since the images that they captured were incredibly detailed, the museums were able to get lots of information out of them. It’s quite a miracle too because these negatives were found in a flooded warehouse and there are thousands of them. To boot, they’re all glass plate negatives. In fact, the museum hasn’t even gone through all of them yet.

The stories behind some of the folks are incredible. Guest curator Peter Doyle states, “The last thing one would expect is that the police photographers…would be attuned to characters and human eccentricity.” He continues to state that a lot of people got by during wartime by scamming American servicemen. Plus, they don’t even seem to be caring too much that they were arrested.

Just as a recap, here are more of the images

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