Serial Killer Portraits

On a popular Australian TV panel show, Spicks and Specks, there is a game that asks each panelist to choose whether the subject of a photograph is a musician or a serial killer. It is extraordinary how many times they get it wrong, choosing a guitarist as a mass murderer or a psychopath as a pop singer. With only one external representation of a person, it is easy to make false judgements.

Without wanting to trivialise such an horrific subject, I bought the photos above, because the sitter reminded me of Myra Hindley. She was one half of the duo responsible for the gruesome UK Moors murders in the early 1960s. I think my photobooth lady, above looks more like a sinister serial killer, with her sharply plucked eyebrows and unsmiling expression, than Myra herself,who is pictured below.

The tendency towards judging a person’s character from first impressions or one or two pictures, making our minds up on flimsy, visual evidence, is well-known to us all. How often do we see someone walking down the street and make judgements on their characters and lifestyles, based on how they look in that minute? How often do we assume a handsome Hollywood star, with a good PR machine on his side, to be as kind and sweet as the characters he portrays, only to eventually find out that behind the scenes he is a manipulative harpy or wife basher? How often are media representations of people, through careful selection and editing, used to manipulate our opinion?

Are we supposed to sympathise with the innocent abroad, falsely accused of drug smuggling? Yes? Then choose a flattering, smiling, professionally taken photo of the person. And if we are supposed to despise the calculating drug mule, caught red-handed with the dope? Well then, choose an unsmiling photo, taken from a bad angle, by a drunk friend, in bad lighting. Doesn’t matter that it is the same person, the perspective of the publisher is what we are seeing, not necessarily the reality.

Have a look below at the same lady of those wild staring eyes, photographed again, without the severe make-up and with more sympathetic expressions. I can now see her as a model or movie star.

In our media savvy world, I think we are mostly aware how often our opinions and emotions are played with by the Fourth Estate… or are we? I think we enjoy having our prejudices confirmed in the popular press and quietly disregard the tricks used to persuade us to a certain opinion.

10 comments
  1. m5son said:

    Very interesting stuff indeed. I have always believed that the press can manipulate the public just by choosing to run a flattering or unflattering photo of a candidate they favor, or not.
    By the way, I have some photobooth pictures of my wife and son and I from 25 years ago. Sepia toned they are. We look mostly normal.

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    • “We look mostly normal.” That made me chuckle! Thanks for your comment. Once I get through a few more of my personal collection I will be asking people to submit their old photobooth pics for my Time Machine category. I definitely won’t forget to ask you, Mike!

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  2. Sue said:

    So true Kath!!! And it’s the point that Mike makes that really bugs me about the media favouring or not favouring certain people in the public eye! Newspapers in the UK especially seem to take a like or dislike to people for no apparent reason and publish pictures flattering or not, accordingly! It would be kind of funny except when weight and beauty issues come into it. They print a picture of a starlet who may have put on a little weight (looking completely normal, healthy and beautiful) and the accompanying text will be slanted depending on weather they “like” this person or not. It’s very damaging to young girls. And there are many other examples on a daily basis! So much for impartial journalism!! Maybe it’s just the crap tabloids that I look at online…my gulity pleasure!! You know what I’m like!!!

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    • And that issue about weight goes back to my post on Facebook. It is so damaging, not just to young girls but to mature women. Men are increasingly getting the pressure, too. And i don’t think health authorities are helping with their narrow size guidelines. You can be very fit, and healthy AND big!

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      • … and I didn’t know you could look at tabloid magazines online. Do they have a Who Weekly web edition? I wish you hadn’t told me. ^-^ (That is a Japanese smiley face – don’t you just love the anime smiling eyes?) I normally leave that guilty pleasure to the doctors’, waiting rooms I am so frequently in.

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  3. Lisa said:

    First – I think it’s amazing that there is a segment on Australian TV about guessing serial killer or musician. We need something like this in the States.

    Second – the woman in this photo bears an uncanny resemblance to Myra, but you’re right – by the last photo, she is quite glamorous – her bright blonde hair and that white fur collar. Love it!

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    • Thanks Lisa!

      The show has, unfortunately, just finished here. It was very funny and very popular.

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  4. rahreee said:

    Idk but there’s something more sinister about the eyes of the actual serial killer lady…but it’s hard to say if I’m just seeing that because I already know what she is.

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    • Yes, our knowledge of someone’s actions makes it hard to be objective. I used to love the art of a certain painter but once I had met him and found out more about his life and nasty habits, I found a lot of unpleasant and sinister aspects in his work that I had never seen before.

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  5. elmediat said:

    All Mass media constructs reality . All Mass Media conveys intended and unintended messages.

    Perhaps it is the time period fashion sense combined with the B&W tonals in some of those first shots, but she looks like she is an actress in an Ed Wood movie. I suppose I am adding context and cultural associations. 😀

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