Somewhere in a filing cabinet stashed (at great inconvenience to everybody involved) in Ohio or Virginia or possibly New York are a few three-ring binders containing Kodachrome transparencies of various old crime scenes. They’re images I shot as a criminal defense investigator–all from cases that never went to trial. Had the cases gone to trial, the images would be filed away somewhere else as evidence. Since the cases were either dismissed or resolved by a plea agreement, the transparencies remained in my possession.
They are, for the most part, the most dull images imaginable. A lot of them are nothing more than establishing shots–photographs taken to establish the features of a location. If, say, a murder took place in a house, you’d begin (or end) your crime scene photography by shooting pictures of the exterior, taking care to include things like street signs and traffic signals and light poles. Evidentiary photographs are about registering clear information that might be helpful to an attorney or to a jury. A conviction or an acquittal might depend on something as mundane as the distance between a front stoop and the nearest light pole.
But also tucked away inside those three-ring binders are images that have no evidentiary value at all. These are photographs I shot simply because they appealed to the eye. There is, for example, a photograph of a blood spatter pattern that splashed across a church calendar hung on a kitchen wall. The calendar has a painting depicting the face of Jesus on the cross. It’s pretty horrible (both the painting itself and the photo showing the blood on the painting), but it’s also visually arresting.
There’s also an abstract image that shows a glass sample container from an old Breathalyzer test. Years ago when suspects were administered a Breathalyzer test to determine their blood alcohol, the samples were kept in glass vials that looked rather like test tubes. Two samples were taken–one of which was sent to the crime lab, the other was set aside for independent testing by the defense. In this case, the accused was charged with vehicular homicide. While awaiting trial, he hung himself in his jail cell. Several months later I discovered the tube while I was cleaning out my evidence locker. It occurred to me that it contained the breath of a dead man. So I photographed it.
There are probably no more than fifteen or twenty such Kodachromes. Except for a few defense lawyers, nobody has ever seen them. I’m not entirely comfortable with them. I’m rather glad they’re unavailable to me now. If I had them, I’m not sure if I’d scan them and make them available for people to see.
I rather think I might, though I’d feel bad about it. I hope I’d feel bad about it.