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Alphonse Bertillon «Bertillonage» | Vitrine
Alphonse Bertillon, «Bertillonage», 1890
Vitrine | Photography | © Alphonse Bertillon
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Vitrine photographique d’einseignement du signalement descriptif, 1890 Quelle: Identity and Alterity. Figures of the Body 1895/1995, la Biennale di Venezia, Venice 1995, S. 113.

Alphonse Bertillon «Bertillonage»Alphonse Bertillon «Bertillonage» | Vitrine

Categories: Context | Photography

Keywords: Body

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icon: authorJens Schröter «Archive—post/photographic»


 Alphonse Bertillon

The process developed in 1879/1880 by the criminologist and anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon was founded on the assumption that a person’s body measurements remain relatively unchanged after reaching the age of twenty. Measuring and registering body proportions made a person unquestionably identifiable in the event of subsequent criminal offences. Also introduced at this time, as an obligatory component of the identification process, was the police photograph [mug shot], which held to the rigid practice of photographing offenders en face and en profil. Up until 1905, the Paris Police Department was said to have identified altogether 12,614 repeated offenders with the Bertillonage process, whose complexity also made it prone to miscalculation. The possibility of confusing 11 different, body measurements could not be entirely ruled out. Bertillon’s process was also expensive and time consuming. These flaws led to quickly implementing dactylopy or identifying subjects by their fingerprints, introduced twenty years later. In France as well, Bertillonage was finally abandoned in 1914, after Bertillon’s death. But a few Bertillonage elements exist even today in the criminal police identification process, for example the combination of profile and frontal shots when photographing offenders. In addition, Bertillon’s collection of types of faces and noses form the basis for what were later composite sketches of suspects.