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Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive Hardcover – October 1, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gorgeously lurid, this perfectly selected set from the LAPD archives comes complete with a foreword from the force's commissioner (who praises the current force and cites its continuing challenges) and a rat-a-tat introduction from Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, etc.), who sees the force as "a tormented giant working toward hard moral truths." The truths that are on display in this book are mostly mortal, and they are, to a page, frightening and absolutely riveting. The LAPD's crime scene photographers, from the 1920s to the 1960s, may have been part of a corrupt force, but they were brilliant photographers, framing and using light in ways that look completely contemporary; the ghastly scenes they capture—mostly of murders and some of execution-style multiple murders—are morbidly arresting. Ellroy dwells on the time travel the photos afford, but other readers will find them timeless, both in the stillness of the deaths they record and in the sameness of the images from decade to decade, as if they were all trapped within the Los Angeles of Barton Fink. That effect can be credited to the book's production team (including editor Deborah Aaronson, designer Brankica Kovrlija and project organizer and archivist Robin Blackman for Fototeka); it gives the book a cohesion and force that most archive-based books, including crime-scene compendia, lack.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

William J. Bratton is the 55th chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and has also served as police commissioner for both the Boston and the New York City police departments. James Ellroy's books include the international best-sellers The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz, and American Tabloid. Tim B. Wride is associate curator of photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition edition (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810950022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810950023
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.2 x 13.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Scene of crime photos like other professional images (medical, a racetrack photo-finish, IDs, speed cameras etc) don't need to worry about creative input, they just need to give basic information, tell a story and that's it. The 133 case study photos in this handsomely designed and printed book certainly captured my interest and I wanted to know more.

At this point the first problem arises, all the captions are at the back of the book, despite the fact that many of the photos are on pages with plenty of white space. At the back the photos are presented as thumbnails but even here it gets confusing, the captions are in a separate text block to the thumbnails. The reality is that all the captions could easily be with the relevant photos if the book had been designed a bit differently or if the captions had to be in the back they should have been placed below the relevant thumbnails.

There might be a reason for this rather inadequate arrangement though because (problem two) there are sixty-five photos, which when you turn to read the caption, you'll find the photo date, a one or two word description and then 'Case information unavailable'. So, amazingly, for about half the photos in the book there are no captions, no story to tell. To my mind this seems a fairly fundamental editorial failure especially considering that the LAPD archives probably contain over a million case photos and surely 133 could have been selected that had their case material available.

As to the photos, they are the usual selection of battered and bloodied bodies in car wrecks, living rooms, bedrooms, eateries or just plain anywhere, ransom notes (bank robbers are not a very literate bunch) mug shots and plenty showing the ordinary, mundane detritus of crime.
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Format: Hardcover
Just a note on other reviews in regard to the lack of captions. The LAPD negatives are not kept with the case files. There are very few case files even available, as they have been destroyed due to lack of space. There is a normal descruction process within the LAPD for paper files. The cases researched in this book were taken from old homicide log books. Also newspaper databases were used. If you would like more details on the LAPD Archive please visit fototeka.com
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Format: Hardcover
The books contains numerous great photos, but the design of the book brings down the overall impression. First of all, the format is unusual, unattractive and cumbersome. Too small to be a coffee table book, too tall for many bookshelves.

Additionally, the fact that the captions (and explanations) are all found in the back of the book is a huge error. When browsing the images one has to continually switch back and forth between image page and caption page. I also agree with a previous reviewer that the fact that so many images have no information/file available is a huge loss. The quality of the image material is,however, beyond comparison. Very impressive and interesting photos indeed.
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Format: Hardcover
I am sure everyone is aware that Scene of the Crime is not the first collection of police archive photos to be released. The past few years have seen the release of many collections of such photos; the most well known being New York Noir, Evidence and Death Scenes. New York Noir and Death Scenes have a common thread in their use of well-known writers in their introductions. Luc Sante the noted New York historian collected the photographs for Evidence and penned the introduction for New York Noir. Katherine Dunne, the author of Geek Love is responsible for the intro to Death Scenes. Scene of the Crime follows that tradition; drafting the modern master of Los Angeles noir, James Ellroy, to pen the introduction to this collection of archival Los Angeles crime photos. Much as Luc Sante was the ideal choice for New York Noir, Ellroy is perfect for this collection of photographs from the city that has been his muse.

Some may be inclined to compare collected archival crime scene and police photos to the work of Weegee, but to do so would be a mistake. In his time Weegee photographed to satisfy tabloid papers and their readers. Don't get me wrong, I love the photographs he took, but the police photographer is not in it for the same thing. The crime scene photographer is there for documentation. It's his job, no different than taking portrait shots of unruly and unkempt children in a corner alcove at the local mall. However, there is art to be found in crime scene photos, it is not just point and shoot. The angles, the shadows, the composition of the photos, why some have the faces of the victims shown and why some do not, these are all aspects of the art behind the documentation of the crime scene.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scene of the Crime is the latest in a recent influx of collections of crime scene photography, and it has added appeal in that some of the images are of famous cases, such as the Black Dahlia murder and the Manson Family slaughterhouse. The book is laid out in the same manner as most of these books, with black and white images presented in the first half of the book, and information for each photograph at the back. Unfortunately, many of the photographs piqued my curiosity, only to find a sad, unsatisfying, "case information unavailable" comment awaiting me in the back of the book. Still, many of the images are so well-composed and interesting that they could be seen in art museums rather than cold case files, so this is a minor quibble.

However, there are also quite a few lesser and uninteresting images as well, which left me feeling a bit cheated given my suspicion that the LAPD coffers are overflowing with many more graphic, historic, and fascinating images. Comparing this book to the classic LA crime gallery Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook serves to further point out this collection's shortcomings. There is nothing in here as punch-in-the-gut brutal as the image of the decapitated baby on the cutting board or as surreal as the peaceful head sitting in the middle of a road after a traffic accident, both from Death Scenes. Taken on its own merits, I might have given the book a five skull rating, but in comparison with its more amazing brethren I'd have to rate it a four.
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