FIFA: Mugshot: An anatomy of prison portraiture

There's something eerie about being photographed moments after being arrested - but who knew that someone's misery can also be another person's artistic masterpiece, or even a scoop that's just waiting to be nourished by the hungry pages of the tabloid?

There's more to a mugshot than just an image, and there's more a story than just seeing someone smiling (or posing with umph and enthusiasm, or with utmost distaste and disgrace) for the camera.

Put together by Canadian director Dennis Mohr and writer Rob Ruzic, Mugshot is a 2012 feature documentary screened at this year's International Festival of Films on Art that looks into our fascination for this strange photographic ubiquity. It's informative, engaging, and fun; it packs a lot of punches, and yet at the same time, it invites us to learn and know why we get so worked up over a simple photograph of someone that we may perhaps know.

The cowboy-slash-Western-like musical tone, gives an endless presentation of these mugshots - from those of centuries past to the ones you may see online nowadays - all panning back and forth on your screen, will simply either make you laugh, giggle, churn, and cringe at any given minute. They can also be really distracting when you're trying to listen to an expert's personal opinion or narrative about a certain photograph. But then, it cannot be helped when you're curious to find out what made that alleged criminal commit to these crimes in the first place.

What's even more fascinating is how the filmmakers plunge you - as the spectator - into the lives of the various interesting characters being interviewed in collecting these mugshots for their own pleasure - or perhaps someone else's pain. For instance, there's a publisher in the U.S. who puts out a popular weekly paper of all of the mugshots of recent arrests with their names and motives for the crime done; a freelance designer having field day collecting, analyzing, and reading into the behavior involved regarding ancient portraitures of criminals printed from the 1800s; and a peculiar historian who travelled all the way from the British Isles to North Carolina just to learn the backstory of every recorded criminal that has been documented. You'd probably think they're crazy and have no idea to what they're doing with their lives. Or maybe not.

There are polarizing opinions to this kind of photography as well as there's also people interviewed in this documentary who have been taken in mugshots that simply say that it is not one's own moment to ridicule someone who have been warranted an arrest for a petty crime. Portraiture can also be seen as profiling someone who is a criminal who has done something wrong - disregarding everything else that person else has done in their lives.

As a whole, Mugshot will definitely spark an emotion, or a myriad of it - whether you're amused by the celebrity shots of people getting arrested for doing no good, or upset at how and why some people decide to extravagantly shame alleged criminals without the consideration, or privacy. Or maybe wonder why some people will go out of their way to hunt down for criminals.

Regardless of how you feel, "Mugshot" does its job as both a feast for the eyes and a nifty one-hour underground history lesson packaged into an engaging contemporary documentary film. Timely in a decade in selfies and the like, this one is worth checking into the lens' other side.

For a photo that's worth a thousand words, a mugshot can have a deep meaning.


- Mugshot played as a part of the 2015 edition of the Montreal Festival international du film sur l'art