Forensic Photography

God’s eye view

God's eye view

Imagine a court of law where jury members are blindfolded and all descriptions of the case have to be described orally.  There would be no end to the arguments intended to persuade the jury that a particular event was somehow rooted in time and space.  The very existence and ubiquity of the image has fundamentally taken away this possibility, and made irrefutable the image’s presence as visual testimony.

Forensic photography aims to be a particularly objective form of documentation.  Indeed the forensic photographer’s hands are cuffed when it comes to presenting (sometimes) graphic content with anything other than a cool, mechanical detachment.

To qualify this, we can think in terms of intention and audience.  The moral duty of the forensic photographer is to document a scene from a perspective, which places the viewer in a position of unambiguous observation.  In other words, using lighting, focus and scale to produce an image, which maintains a formal and impassive gaze.

From this viewpoint objects and general scene geography have equal merit.  The originator of the crime scene photograph, Alphonse Bertillion came up with an ingenious way of achieving this objective viewpoint.  He positioned the camera in the centre of the room, looking down vertically onto the corpse or scene, creating what has become known as the ‘god’s eye view’ photograph.  However, it was not universally adopted, probably due to the vertigo inducing effects of the resulting images.  In nature, we would never get this elevated viewpoint without some grounding feature – our feet – to keep us from a certain feeling of psychedelia.  Indeed, if any image could be too objective, this was probably it.

This perspective can be said to be an early forerunner of Google Earth, which takes the micro view of the crime scene photograph and blows it up to the macro ‘all-seeing-eye’.