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.
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.
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.
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.