Cartier-Bresson’s formula, searching for the decisive moment. That moment is, by definition, gone. It occurred before the photog rapher arrived. What he encounters is a place where something has happened that has left behind traces and clues in the stillness.
The aesthetic of the police photograph is thus not temporal but spatial: it is concerned to record the appearance of a site — whether interior or exterior — the location of furniture or other objects, for example, especially any that show signs of disturbance and may offer clues as to the movement of now absent figures through this space as the crime took place.
It is also concerned to show how spaces lead into other spaces: where is the entrance from the outside landing into the apartment, or the hallway or door that leads from the living room to the bedroom? How many steps away was it? Was there another way out, an escape route? For this reason there are numerous shots in which rooms are framed by doorways or taken from the different angles of vision.
Part of this aesthetic is the necessary emphasis on clarity and sharp focus; everything is in crisp, factual black and white, brightly lit by the flash, which illuminates gloomy corners but also bleaches out any subtleties of natural lighting. If these interiors once had any kind of welcoming domestic ambience or erotic intimacy, it is abolished in the radical tonal reading of the camera, and this itself seems almost like a metaphor of the way anger, despair and violence have already destroyed the humanity that may once have reigned in these homes.
The vision is bleak but not sensationalised, and the effect is enhanced by the presentation, not as a series of prints on the wall but edited into a documentary-like sequence projected on to the wall.
This format allows for the inclusion of many more images than would have been possible in a show of prints, but also makes it easier to understand the context of and connection between individual images.
The sequence is accompanied by Doyle’s outstanding narration, which is concise and even terse, in a style that echoes the dry, laconic style of classic crime fiction. In a few well-chosen words, Doyle manages to set the scene — naming the suburb, for example — and briefly characterise the situation, the kind of people involved and the presumed course of events. Frequently, he draws our attention to one of those small details of the setting that turned out to be significant.
Every now and then Doyle allows himself a brief reflection, wry or wistful, on the meaning of what has happened, or on the time and social circumstances. For these images, in their dispassionate recording of anomalous events in very ordinary settings, offer us a window into the culture of Australia in the 50s and 60s.
It’s a depressing spectacle: a time of growing wealth, the spread of suburbia, the obsession with cars and other status symbols. Religious and spiritual life are at low ebb in a world of ob-
From Suburban Noir, clockwise from top: car crash, North Sydney (1958); police investigation, Bankstown (1964); car crash investigation, Paddington (1964); stolen goods, Canley Vale (1964)