Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Art versus Reality

As an exercise in illusion-shattering, Femme Fatales by Nerida Campbell would be hard to beat.

Produced to accompany an exhibition by New South Wales' Historic Houses Trust, Femme Fatales presents a series of images of female criminals as presented in 1920s-1950s movies and pulps, and then contrasts them with a selection of photographs from the archives of Syney's Long Bay Gaol, taken between 1914 and 1930. (Click for much bigger, readable versions.)

It's no great surprise that reality differs wildly from fiction, but it is jarring to see just how pathetic all of these backyard abortionists, unfortunate bigamists, sly grog sellers and murderers look, even those dressed up in what must seem to have been their fanciest duds.

It's a fascinating book, if extraordinarily light on information. There's an great short biography waiting to be written about most of the female crims in this book: they certainly deserve more than a brief paragraph each.

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A rare personal aside: today in Adelaide it was 45.7°C (114°F), and it's expected to be such for the next week. Balls to that, I say.


Kylie said...

I went to the Museum of Sydney the other day and had a flick through this Femme Fatale.

It looks like a great little book but I'm still deciding whether or not to get it. As you say, it has precious little details in the stories and I was hoping for something a little meatier. I love the vintage pics in it as well!

JRSM said...

Yes, it's almost like a postcard book or something: big colour pictures with just a sentence or two of description. But the stories that should have been included about those women! A missed opportunity.