Reactor

The Mesmerizing Duality of Mugshots vs. Facebook Profile Pics

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 29, 2013

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(all screen shots via induplo.tumblr.com)

We live in a world shaped by the proliferation not just of social media, but also of surveillance. Sometimes it seems as if we’re constantly presenting and re-presenting ourselves, selfies upon selfies, in an effort to counteract the official narratives imposed by others. It’s telling that the nonstop images flooding our eyes everyday generally fall into two categories: sponsored, advertised, sanctioned by some larger corporate or government (or both, since the two are ever more inseparable) body; and self-made/amateur.

This tension is at the heart of a tumblelog that’s fascinated me ever since I saw it mentioned on the Slog a few weeks ago: In Duplo. Named after a legal term that means “in double,” the site contrasts people’s mugshots with their Facebook profile pictures, placing images taken by law enforcement side-by-side with images taken by selves and friends.

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One of the first things I noticed, probably inevitably, is how comically bad most people look in their mugshots, versus how good they look on Facebook. I realize this is sort of obvious, since everyone wants to look his or her best — whether physically or in terms of seeming lovable and fun — in a profile picture. But the contrast is so glaring, the two photo categories come to seem like precise opposites: acne in one, clear skin in the other; wavy hair in one, flat-ironed in the other; tears in one, sexy face in the other. Occasionally a mugshot comes along in which the person looks reasonably good and collected. I admire these people’s unwavering ability to present themselves well, as if they’re so accustomed to being in front of the camera, it’s become their natural state.

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The strangest, most affecting pairings come when a person’s Facebook profile picture includes children. A joyous photo of a man hugging his daughter sits alongside his fairly frightening mugshot portrait, with messy hair, pursed lips, neck veins popping, and a petulant stare. The pathos of this contrast is almost overwhelming, as are the questions that arise from it. Is the child his daughter? What was his crime? Was he thinking of her when he committed it? Will he go to jail and disappear from her life?

In Duplo is also weirdly refreshing, in that its racial make-up is diverse. Compared to the horrible racial imbalance in our prison population — roughly 60% of US prisoners are African American or Hispanic — it’s nice to see people of all colors (and genders) on there. It’s sort of a nice reminder that everybody fucks up and does stupid stuff; some people are just unlucky enough to get caught.

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On the question of privacy: the creator of the tumblelog makes a point of omitting names and crimes from the individual posts, “to protect the people in these photos from being indexed in search engines.” And it’s perfectly legal, since mugshots are in the public domain. But the links below the image pairs lead you back to their sources, where the person’s name is printed right at the top of the page. Normally I’m all for sourcing Tumblr images, but in this case, I’m not sure. There has been growing aggravation over private mugshot websites and the fees they’re charging people to have images taken down, and clicking through from In Duplo feels like crossing some sort of line — transitioning from a little harmless voyeurism to the more pernicious kind.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 3.24.15 PM

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  • Jx Marie

    I hope this makes other people feel as vulnerable as it makes me feel, being the subject of state control. So much is left to the imagination: what was their crime? Was it a “crime”? So much circumstance isn’t addressed. I’m afraid perhaps juxtaposition to this degree comes off too strongly judgmental towards these folks. It’s extremely interesting, but also feels like it is victimizing these folks by exposing them at the worst moments imaginable uncontextualized. I think that this blog is drawing out a very important hidden narrative, but I question its responsibility in handling. What does anyone else think?

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I definitely agree that we should question its responsibility in handling something like this, and I’ve been struggling with the question of how exploitative it is or isn’t. That said, at least for me, the blog actually made me judge these people less harshly than I probably would have had I only seen their mugshots. The juxtaposition softened me and made me feel like, yeah, that could just as easily be me.

      • Jx Marie

        That’s reassuring that it had a similar affect on you. I guess that forums such as tumblr are more often used for irony and shit-talking rather than for actual critical discussion or response. I suppose I am also fairly new to these social media platforms and have a lot to learn. I would really like to see them used more often as places for critical thought and exchanges. Which is what is happening now, so thanks.!

  • Enjoyinglifenyc

    It’s very thought- provoking. It speaks so much to the transparency of this time that we are in. I struggle with the pictures being linked back to the person’s contact information, though, and whether having an historical document or webpage up with a mugshot and a sometimes poorly chosen picture up will lead someone to be judged forever for a moment of bad judgement. I think my only other concern is for the other person in the pic. Is there any potential danger or repercussion for a little preschool aged girl being on a website where you can easily see her fathers mugshot and Facebook page along with his name, what town they both live in and potentially pics of family members, or her school etc. I suppose the same concern would extend to the wife whose husband is in jail somewhere. Is there a risk to her? Lots of questions come up…

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Lots of questions do come up, for sure. But I’m not sure about the risk to other people in the photos—everything this Tumblr presents is publicly available information. The creator is just putting it all in one place. So I’m not sure how there could be added risk to the secondary people in the photos…? I think the first impulse is to blame the creator of the tumblelog, and while I don’t think that person is free from responsibility or potential blame, I think the bigger question that gets overlooked is what it means that all of this is publicly available information—that this person could make the Tumblr so easily.

  • dcoyote

    My take is it’s offensive, exploitative, and immature. What is the point other than to mock and expose people who may have been wrongly caught up in the judicial system. Even if not wrongly, still it can only hurt someone, not help anyone. It’s easy to do damage, requires much more imagination to create something meaningful, or informative and helpful to society or the world. It tells me something about the creator of this series more than his victims and it’s not flattering.

  • http://twitter.com/dadalinski Dada

    Looking at these images is making me react but I can’t look away!

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