Although the use of photography for criminal identification seemed so promising in the beginning, police all around the world soon realized that it had severe limitations. At the end of the nineteenth century mug shots were criticised for a number of reasons.
First of all, some people were concerned that mug shots and their association with criminality would taint the art and aesthetics of respectable portraiture. Because police often relied on commercial photographers to take mug shots of arrested criminals, it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between a mug shot and a normal portrait (see image below). Those who could afford the expensive portraits worried that they might be mistaken for criminals. Furthermore, many worried that by using it for 'common purposes' like criminal portraits would rob photography of it's 'art'.
one of the biggest problems with mug shots lay in how to classify,
organise, and sort through photographs. If the mug shots were
organised by name and sorted into alphabetical order, it would be
difficult to find the correct photograph if a suspect gave police a
false name. Police and witnesses had to resort to flipping through
g shot books- a slow process which rarely resulted in a positive
identification. By 1913, there were already over three thousand mug
shots in New Zealand- a nearly impossible number of photographs to
sort through. But this was nothing compared to larger places like
London, where forty-three thousand mug shots were already collected
Chelsea Nichols, March 2010. Unless otherwise stated, all images and information found on this website are property of the New Zealand Police Museum.