Arresting Images

Lennox & Addington Museum and Archives previously hosted a traveling exhibition curated by the Ontario Police Patrol called Arresting Images. This fascinating collection illustrates the chronology of mug shots and how they have evolved over time. Arresting Images features the two earliest mug shots to exist in a Canadian public collection.

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Photography was invented in the 1830’s

On June 21, 2016, Dave St. Onge gave a talk on the early history of federal penitentiary mug shots in Canada. As a knowledgeable source on penitentiary history, Dave focused on Kingston Penitentiary as he outlined the evolution of record keeping and mug shots.

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The first records of inmates were the discharge papers found in the Kingston Penitentiary registers. These sheets of paper recorded the inmates’ basic information including their name, crime, complexion, height, and where they were born. As the need to have a better description of current and past inmates increased, notable markers including tattoos and moral features such as smoking or drinking were written down. This created a clearer report of whom these people were if they needed to be found thereafter.

In the 1830’s photography was invented which changed the entire system of record keeping. A French police officer named Alphonse Bertillion introduced a classification system called anthropometry, the recording of exact body measurements. This approach progressed towards fingerprinting inmates, and in 1910 Kingston Penitentiary began taking mug shots. The informal nature of mug shots is illustrated by the varying clothing worn by the inmates. During this time the inmates trade and socioeconomic background could be assumed by their appearance in their mug shot. Later on inmates wore their uniforms, which regulated the images and displays the evolution of prison uniforms. Arresting Images is a unique exhibition that illustrates the type of information that was considered valuable to Penitentiaries during the early 1900’s.

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The renovated Lennox and Addington Museum & Archives provides insight to the history of the surrounding area from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.

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