Crime scene: Scientific Investigation Bureau Archives 1945-1960

Detectives once produced Crime Scene pictures with a style serving both the legal and scientific needs of the force and their own aesthetic interests. More often than not this resulted in intuitive and artistic work.

Coming just after the descriptive conformities of the mug shot and before the thorough regulation of forensic science, 1950s crime-scene images have a special ’speculative’ power. These police photographers entered the Crime Scene, paid attention to its mood and clues, and then imagined the best way to frame the mysteries in a picture.

In the Crime Scene exhibition, the imaginative quality of the images was intensified by the fact that these image-files have been severed forever from the court-reports and the detectives’ notes. 

Focusing on the decade after World War II, the images showed an era of great turmoil, repressed yearning and complexity. In this sense the photographs were a revelation - dark and extraordinary, stimulating and challenging our common sense.

’When I began researching the crime-scene photographs, I had the inkling I was looking at rooms and streets that were in shock somehow... images of pulsing intensity... simultaneously ordinary and awful. They are street corners, foyers, ferry stops - settings you visit everyday. Yet they are also places charged with all the spirited life that has energised and warped Sydney through time,’ said Ross Gibson, Co-curator.

Crime Scene featured a selection of over 100 crime photographs from the Scientific Investigation Bureau archives held at the Justice & Police Museum, interviews with some of the original police photographers, interactive work-stations and more.

The challenge of these images is that they can never tell a conclusive story, they can suggest but they can never prove.

Curators Ross Gibson and Kate Richards

13 November 1999 - 8 October 2000