For the longest time I have wanted to create a series of portraits inspired by the book ‘LEAST WANTED‘ by Steidl Kaseher. A few pages into the book are two points:
01. a mugshot does not mean that the person is guilty or innocent of any crime.
02. the fact that a mugshot was taken does not establish that a crime was committed or that the subject of the photograph is guilty or innocent of any wrongdoing.

The book is a thick, thick book of mug shots curated from a collection of thousands of photographs dating from the early 1870’s to the ’70s. Four pages in the book have the subject holding a mirror over their shoulder with a scoop cut out of the lower right corner. This unconventional shape allows the subject to hold the mirror close to their body, and allows for the photographer to see both front view and side profile of the subject in one shot. Is this why this was done? To only use one frame of film per customer? If so, I find that to be ingenious. Ever since seeing these few pages of ‘double-headers’ I had to make my own set.

I have to admit, this first go around I did some very backwards things technically + had two battery fails (yes, two – camera and triggers). Nightmare.

I set up a white-black v-flat at a 90 degree angle, the white canvas was the backdrop, and black was camera right. Camera left was a 750 watt strobe at 50% with a grid. The mirror held in the subject’s right hand acted as a flag to cut the strobe. All of this backwardness made for terrible lighting – it was an experiment to use light and cut light to create unflattering everything. And, I had left the camera on a custom color temperature from a shoot the day before, which caused the inaccurate blue tones. After that, yes, there’s more – I ran a bleach filter to subtract any saturation and kicked up tonal contrast. What a mess.

I did tell the subjects’ what this project was all about and did not encourage or speak too much – leaving them to their thoughts and expressions – mostly. Very few needed prompting. I think what is interesting is the combined front view and side profile. We never see ourselves in a portrait this way.

As a part-time contrarian (with my own editing), I changed my mind half way through, and decided to throw consistency out the window. The end result – two edits. Edit one is the cool blue set, and edit two is a mix of production that best suited the individual. I think I got it right in the end.

I have to keep thinking about this, why I really wanted to make this series. I’ll continue to work this series as there were many friends that should be in it. Check back some day, I might have more answers.