LAPD Crime Scene Photos from the Mid-1900s

A new exhibition in Los Angeles will feature crime scene photos captured by police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department from between 1925 and the 1970s.

Back in 2001, Fototeka founder Merrick Morton, who’s also a photographer and LAPD reserve officer, received unprecedented access to Los Angeles’ records department and its immense photo archive.

At the City Records Center in downtown Los Angeles, which houses 150 years worth of city documents in 47,500 square feet of cardboard crates, Morton was alarmed to find that some of the archive boxes contained decomposing cellulose nitrate negatives. Since these posed a fire hazard, the fire department recommended that all of the negatives be destroyed.

Morton and his team lobbied to save the photos, and as a result, only the unsalvageable boxes of photos were destroyed while the rest were shipped to a cold storage facility.

Fototeka then spent hundreds of hours sifting through the countless boxes, rediscovering the forensic photo negatives that had been tucked away from public view for so many decades. The negatives from each case were stored in everyday dimestore #10 white letter envelopes that had been cut in half and sealed.

“The earliest photographs in the collection date to 1925,” Fototeka writes. “The film used was large-format (4″x5″) cellulose nitrate until sometime in the early forties when it was replaced with safety film. In the early sixties, the size changed to medium-format (2-1/4″x2-1/4″) which was used until the mid-seventies when it was, in turn, replaced with 35mm.”

A selection of these photos will be featured in a new exhibition titled “The Art of the Archive: Photographs from the Los Angeles Police Archive,” put on by House of Lucie and Fototeka.

The photos “are crime-scene photographs, shot […] by Los Angeles police officers in the line of duty — as evidence,” Fototeka says. “Through curation and presentation in a gallery setting, they achieve a secondary purpose, offering a real-life window in a world familiar to most present-day viewers through film noir.”

“The Art of the Archive” will run from July 10th through August 11th, 2019, at the House of Lucie at ROW DTLA.

Image credits: All photos by the LAPD and courtesy Fototeka.