||<p>Between the 1880s and the First World War, the French public exhibited a broad
interest in crime. New forms of crime coverage in the popular press and new scientific
practices of criminal investigation were both concerned with the authentic representation
of true crime and both claimed their representations would allow jurists, police,
or readers to “directly observe” reality. In this dissertation, I examine the iconographies
of crime mobilized by French journalists, police, and jurists during this time period,
putting them into conversation with emergent notions of objectivity, realism, and
verisimilitude. I base my conclusions, in part, upon the formal analysis of images
from illustrated newspapers, the French Police Archives, and the archives of the Assizes
court of the former Seine department.In the first half of my dissertation, I trace
the emergence of certain proto-objective values (non-partisanship, facts over opinion,
moral value of distance) in the prospectuses of the major newspapers of the mass press
and examine the simultaneous development of sensationalist news coverage. I argue
that although French crime coverage was characterized by the emotional tone and lurid
language of faits divers, it traded off interests in indexicality, transparency, lifelikeness,
and legibility, complementing French editors’ commitments to non-partisanship, informational
content, and the empowerment of readership. This reflection is complemented by an
analysis of 757 crime-related illustrations published by the illustrated weekly supplements
of the Petit Parisien and the Petit Journal. I argue that it was specifically through
the iconic medium of engraving and the visual conventions of melodrama that the supplements
could reconcile the didactic and editorial aims of prior generations of the illustrated
press with the informational news focus of modern journalism. Moreover, I demonstrate
that this medium and style could provide a certain lifelikeness and legibility that
photo-mechanical prints could not.
In the second half of my dissertation, I turn from the field of the French press to
the French criminal justice system where concerns about objectivity and representation
were also on the rise. Here, I introduce the term “trace objectivity” to refer to
the use of indices and measurements to correct for the fallible nature of human memory.
Movements of trace objectivity included the professionalization of legal experts and
expertise, the rise of forensic analysis of material evidence, the development of
the mug shot and other scientific representations of criminals, and a wave of psychology
studies which cast doubt upon verbal testimony. I draw upon historiographical research
to demonstrate that such practices hit significant obstacles in their implementation.
Trace objective representations were, to some degree, neglected in favor of traditional
methods like conventional portraiture and vernacular description because they did
not align with the aesthetics of memory, which, despite the efforts of scientists,
remain essential to the project of criminal justice.
In my final chapter, I analyze the images of criminals in the police and court archives.
These archives hold souvenirs and reconstitutions which reproduce similar representational
strategies to trace objectivity and sensationalism. I notably remark that collectors,
and the archives, value souvenirs for their physical connection to the crime event
and the relational history that links the final possessor with the original collector
- precisely the indexicality and chains of custody that legal reformers like Binet
and Garraud valued in material evidence. In other words, souvenir collection draws
from the same desire that undergirded trace objectivity: to have an objective, inhuman
witness to past events. Reconstitutions, like staged photographs and sketches reproducing
violent crimes, provide a foil to the representational strategy of the souvenir or
trace. The presence of reconstitutions in the archives indicates that criminal justice
actors needed to bring the crime back to life in the present, since the trace was
always partial and past.
This dissertation thus serves to re-evaluate the power and pervasiveness of iconicity
in representations of crime. Iconicity, lifelikeness, and legibility play a key role
in the practice and understanding of criminal justice systems and, accordingly, it
is our duty to interrogate the aesthetics of representations of crime.