The first exhibition exposure, is particularly rich in images recorded in the 1940s and 50s. By 1952 up to 20 crime or accident scenes might have to be photographed in a single shift. The work produced hourly confrontations with cruel sights and hard realities: each of these ruptures in the orderly life of the town, needed to be recorded meticulously, visually mapped, with a rational gaze and steady hand. This was a time when forensic photography in Sydney underwent a decisive transformation. Due to a range of technological and historical factors including an expansion of personnel in the NSW Police Scientific Investigation Bureau, crime and accident scene recording became both more comprehensive and more pervasive. The introduction of portable cameras, and lighter-weight, less expensive negative media - in combination with a greater number of working photographers - allowed increased coverage of incidents and greater interaction with Sydney's rambling geography. Emerging alongside the images of mayhem, tragedy and misadventure in the exhibition there is also a profound sense of Sydney as place, a city whose multiple guises are captured comprehensively.
This display of photographs reveals the poetry and profanity of the archive. Interspersed with images documenting the aftermath of violent crime, and suspicious death, are other images more concerned with space and atmospherics. The pace of life in Sydney, at all times of day and night, in all weathers and light conditions. The photography captures the rain-slicked moonlit tarmac of Surry Hills shimmering with the crazed reflections of car headlamps, the white heat of a summer day in Newtown that welds deep shadows to the feet of hurrying pedestrians, the glittering sand, scrub and gum, of Toukley darkening in the twilight to provide an anonymous dumping ground for a body. The images are as much about mysteries observed, as resolutions found for them. Importantly, the exhibition makes a space for fugitive portraits of the photographers and investigators who attended various scenes themselves. They show up as accidental presences. Sometimes they are spotted hovering on the edge of the frame, or identified by a single body part, when hands or feet unconsciously protrude in front of the aperture. Mirrored surfaces field them back to the camera lens in several photographs. In one image, a car bumper bar reflection reveals the photographer crouching on the bitumen his bulky Crown Speed Graphic camera, with flash pan attached, raised to his eye. In another, we find a photographer who has carefully positioned a camera and tripod in a bloody bedroom reflected back to us in a dresser mirror, his odd air of scientific detachment in sharp contrast to the human gore on the bed sheets.