Ever since the beginning of "Hollywood" and the shoot to popularity of the "star", the personal lives and personal dramas of those afflicted with celebrity status have become news stories, appearing on websites such as CNN, FOXNews, and the New York Times. The draw of the voyeur is undisputed. TMZ.com, a website dedicated to bringing to light the personal endeavors of many celebrities, ranks 108 in the US in web traffic and has since started a late night television show chronicling paparazzi following various celebrities as they exit popular clubs. Of course, these forms of media do not focus on many of the good aspects of the celebrity life-although sometimes the occasional story comes out involving some bit of altruism, shallow or not-but rather spotlight the bad aspects. One bit of entertainment that has sprung out of the celebrity voyeur scene is the mug shot-the slang term for the police booking photo taken after an arrest. At once, it has all too much to say: the celebrity has been stripped of "immune" status for a moment, relegating them to that of normal people. This does not seem too bad until you realize that many of these mugshots make their way into primetime news, the blogosphere, and of course, sites focused on celebrity news. The attention they get is much more than any normal person's mugshot. The average person's mugshot is rarely available online, and often, one must request images from a police department in order to see them on the police report. The images, however, are public records and available to anyone who wants to see them-as long as local laws permit it.
This voyeuristic culture fascinated me. As a frequent reader of TMZ, many news and entertainment blogs like Huffington Post, and Youtube, I have encountered quite a number of mugshots. Most are embarassing. Some are actually quite pleasant. They range from Nick Nolte, looking as if he's been hit by a train, to Tom DeLay, who turned himself with a great big smile before succumbing to conspiracy charges. I wanted to do something interesting with these pictures--something that no one had thought of yet, and I found a slew of opportunities.
My main idea was to juxtapose these images of celebrities with images of normal, US citizens, particularly those who have committed the same crimes. The celebrities run the gamut--although my one requirement was film work. Shia LaBeouf regularly stars in big-budget action movies such as the Transformers series and the latest Indiana Jones movie. Charlie Sheen is the star of the current most successful sitcom on television and has worked in many pictures, such as Platoon, Money Talks, and Major League. Lindsay Lohan is a special case, as she has been the subject of many controversial celebrity news stories, particularly her struggles with alcohol, as well as her current sexual identity story that seems to be popping up from time to time; her film work, of course, can be seen from her childhood days in Parent Trap up to now with movies like Herbie: Fully Loaded. Hugh Grant is a British actor who has acted with roles in such movies as Bridget Jones' Diary and Notting Hill. Lastly, Rip Torn is a fairly less known character actor whose mug shot and crime has propelled him to the level of the others: what amounted to breaking into a bank with a loaded gun while intoxicated. It should also be noted that a number of these people, celebrity and not, have been arrested for other crimes, resulting in other mug shots not shown. Also to be noted: Rip Torn's mug shot was taken during a previous arrest for drunk driving, however TMZ frequently posted it on the website in connection with his most recent bank robbery arrest.
As for the project itself, my ideas were set, but my execution needed to fully explain what I was getting at with these images. At first, I thought about doing the project on actual film, so that I could project it. However, I wanted the project to be big enough to see and comprehend without the use of a projector or any sort of viewing device. I wanted to remove it far away from the screen and put it in a very tangible form. That's why I went as far as making the portraits lay on their side; as in, if these images were screened, they would all be on their side in order to take away any filmic language the reel has. The way I looked at it, both celebrity and non-celebrity are evened out in terms of environment. The celebrities are removed from the film and the screen, while the non-celebrities are moved from obscurity and placed on imitation film stock (transparencies), more than ten times the size. The "film" is cut in five parts to juxtapose celebrity and non-celebrity with similar crime. Each cut is repaired with transparent tape, just as film is when edited together after cutting, then come together to create something about 50 inches long.
I decided to take the presentation photo in front of a double bathroom stall in order to further emphasize both the vulgarity of a mugshot along with the transplantation of celebrity in a place where perhaps graffiti may have been more reasonable. To be sure, the presence of a mug shot does not imply guilt, only arrest. Many celebrities do not get charged with anything, while others go to prison; the same applies to non-celebrities. However, the mug shot in today's culture is embarassing--something usually kept private. The Honolulu Police Department posts mug shots of DUI offenders on their website for people to view, explicitly to curb DUI. When I put up the piece in the bathroom, several people came in and remarked how scary or creepy it looked, before noticing that half of the shots were of celebrities.
I also found that working with mug shots was daunting, since many of them are small when they are taken, forcing me to touch up the photos in order for them to 1.) make them look as if they are on film and 2.) come out in a decent quality that does not hinder viewing. Therefore, all of these images have been slightly blurred, saturated, and enlarged by at least three times their original size. While working on these photos, I had the temptation to "fix" flaws in the photos not caused by low resolution photos. Things like skin complexion, wrinkles, and acne were all left in, but it was difficult not to make these photos try to fit the celebrities how I know them--from movies and television.
Alexa Ranking for TMZ(2/16/10)
Honolulu Police Department - Mug Shots of DUI Offenders(updated every Wednesday at 10 AM for 24 hours, then taken down)
TMZ - Rip Torn(12/4/09)