Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
August 22, 2014
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Decoding Gov. Rick Perry’s latest flash with the law

The political history of mug shots

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thanks to a certain politician this week, mug shots have come back into fashion.

Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, chose to sport a nice black blazer with a crisp baby blue tie this week after turning himself into Texas authorities on counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. With a semi-smirk on his face, at first glance it’s hard to tell whether it’s a booking photo or passport picture.

Perry is just the latest politician to join the mug shot bad boys club. Before him there was former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former U.S. Senator John Edwards and Under Armour-sporting Chicago Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Mug shot is the informal name for a police photograph or booking photo.  And it’s not hard to see where the nickname came from. In England, mug was a common term for face, and shot meant … well you get the picture.

The idea of the mug shot began shortly after photography was invented in the 1840s. It’s believed the modern version of the mug shot took off following the assassination of President Lincoln where Alexander Gardner took full body portraits and profile shots of the accused conspirators.

The photos became part of a standard process for law enforcement in 1888 thanks to a French copyist who sought a consistent way to keep track of criminals coming in and out of the country’s jail systems.

The typical mug shot is a portrait from shoulders up of a person’s face straight on as well as from the profile.  Although Perry’s side shot is woefully absent, I think it’s safe to say his one photo is enough of a comparison to past politician arrests.