These pictures are from a series of around 2,500 “special photographs” taken by the New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930. They were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney and are, as curator Peter Doyle explains, of “men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension”.
More than 30 hours of work has gone into accurately coloring a handful of photographs from the archive.
1921 Sydney NSW. Barbara Turner is arrested for an act of fraud.
Doyle suggests that, compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, “the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.”
Details surrounding this particular photograph are unknown, but Sidney Kelly was arrested many times and often written about in newspapers during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. He was charged with numerous offences including shooting and assault, and in the 1940s was a pioneer of illegal baccarat gaming in Sydney. This image appears in the Photo Supplement to the NSW Police Gazette, 26 July 1926, p. 6 captioned, “Illicit drug trader. Drives his own motor car, and dresses well. Associates with criminals and prostitutes.”
While some of the photographs paint a picture of subjects being animated and carefree, others paint a different picture. This is Valerie Lowe in 1922.
Coloring these photographs involves a lot of study and patience. The average time it takes to accurately color any given portrait is around 240 minutes. You learn a lot about your subject in that time: What happened to them? Did they clean up their acts?
This is Alice Cooke, 1922 at the Sydney women's reformatory. Alice, described by Sydney NSW police as "rather good looking," she had several aliases at the time this photograph was taken at the age of 24.
This is Herbert Ellis. The precise circumstances surrounding this picture are unknown, but Ellis is found in numerous police records of the 1910s, '20s, and '30s. He is variously listed as a housebreaker, a shop breaker, a safe breaker, a receiver, and a suspected person.
1924 Sydney NSW. Vera Crichton was "bound over to appear for sentence if called upon within three years.”
Here's a mugshot of Mrs. Osbourne.
Mr. Skukerman, glass plate negative 1924, police HQ Sydney NSW. All that was written on the glass plate mugshot is "obtains goods from warehousemen by falsely representing that he is in business."
Vera Crichton's 1924 mugshot was screen recorded as a work in progress, to demonstrate the transformation from monochrome to RGB color. The video was recorded at 8x speed.
The archive held on file at the Sydney Living Museum is substantial, with close to 130 mugshots for people to see. They have been flawlessly digitized for the record. To see more colorizations of history, please visit My Colorful Past.