JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Rizzoli (here). Hardcover (9.5 × 12.5 inches), 208 pages, with 80 color photographs. Includes an essay by Michael Daly. Design by Studio Lin. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)
Homicide is also available in a self-published special edition (available on Dashwood books here). This version is printed entirely on newsprint as a tabloid newspaper and comes in a custom box (12×15 inches). Design by Studio Lin. Printed in 100 copies, signed and numbered.
Comments/Background: The photographic genre of crime scene documentation has been popular since Weegee’s grisly crime scenes in New York and Enrique Metinides’ gory scenes in Mexico City. And naturally, a number of great photobooks have focused on the world of criminal investigation and police work. Jill Freedman spent four years on the police force in two Manhattan neighborhoods and published the series in street cops. The classic book by Luc Santé Evidence showed footage of brutal New York City crimes. And A criminal investigation was based on footage by Watabe Yukichi and followed detectives as they attempted to solve a murder mystery in 1950s Japan.
A recent photo book, simply titled Homicide, by New York-born and based photographer Theo Wenner offers a more contemporary window into the behind-the-scenes work of NYPD detectives. Wenner spent two and a half years documenting the Homicide Squad in Brooklyn’s 90th Precinct, a New York City neighborhood with one of the highest murder rates in the city. The series began with a photographic essay commissioned by rolling stone, and Wenner followed detectives “to crime scenes and through the arc of investigations”. Wenner said: “It’s such an interesting subculture with so many traditions and codes and things that are passed down from generation to generation – with the way they do their jobs, the way they dress, the the way they speak, the culture.”
As a photo book, Homicide is medium sized with a glossy cover, embossed with the title and artist’s name at the very top in a white font. The image on the front captures a ball lying on a tiled floor and extends to the back cover showing a polished shoe and a small drop of blood. The cover and the title immediately prepare us for the graphic content of the book.
Inside, most of the photographs are printed full-bleed, creating an immersive, uninterrupted visual flow. An essay by Michael Daly, Special Envoy of The daily beast, appears at the very end, printed on newsprint. The text columns are printed on the gutter, a good design decision (although they don’t match slightly). A photo index includes thumbnails and captions providing more detail for each photo. Flipping through the pages and smelling the ink adds physicality to the photo book experience.
Wenner followed various detectives to crime scenes, spent time in their offices, and also joined them during their downtime. Her photographs, eerie, out of focus and often taken in low light, focus on their personal details, daily routines, in-between moments and general atmosphere. Captions on the back provide additional details about the crimes detectives had to tackle: a quadruple shooting in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a drug dealer shot dead in his apartment, a woman murdered with an ax by a jealous boyfriend, a man shot in the head the stairwell where he was crouching. As the story unfolds, we follow detectives as they inspect crime scenes, interview witnesses, question suspects, and analyze available evidence. Wenner’s photographs offer a rare insight, not made for television, into the gruesome but fascinating world of criminal investigation.
The book opens with an image of a group of men standing outside the entrance to a building on a rainy night, with the letters NYPD appearing on a jacket, signaling the suspense and dark mood. A few pages later, a vertical photograph shows a calendar outside a desk reading “days since last murder in 75s” with “0” below it, while a blurred silhouette of a lieutenant appears in background. Wenner then goes on to capture a group of detectives in their squad office, in a car, in an interrogation room, taking statements from witnesses, on the roof looking for evidence, and finally drinking whiskey in a bar. after their shift.
There are also graphic shots of gruesome blood-splattered crime scenes, covered corpses, blood-soaked Nike Air Jordans, zipped body bags, blood-smeared narrow hallways and a pile of orange cones covering shell casings. . In one image, a detective reviews surveillance footage of a double stabbing inside the front entrance of an apartment building, with a bloody scene appearing on his computer screen. In another shot, the crime scene unit in white protective suits collects evidence from the stairwell. In many of his blurry images, Wenner is clearly trying to capture the moment while staying clear of the ongoing investigation.
All of these crimes take place against the backdrop of NYC: the twinkling lights on Brooklyn’s nighttime skylines, the storefront of a grocery store on a rainy night, a snowy New York winter, each scene adding to the atmosphere of the city. The photographs were taken just a few years ago, but feel like they take us back to the 1970s or 1980s. The dated old-style desks, the muted colors, and especially the way detectives s dress, with fedora hats and suits, doesn’t seem recent.
Wenner works as a fashion photographer and he brought his intimate sensibility to the project, creating a cinematic and even romantic portrait of these NYPD detectives. Colors play an important role in the series (providing an alternative perspective as well, as the detective genre is usually shot in black and white) – the compound and interrogation rooms have strong green hues, while a number portraits appear in soft red.
The very last photograph shows Detective Jimenez in his car late at night, when he has just arrived at a new homicide – the work of Brooklyn detectives continues. As a photo book, Homicide stands out with its thoughtful design and distinct color language, and succeeds in its quest to immerse the viewer in an unstable atmosphere of the New York crime scene. It also reminds us that these detectives are very real people, who have to deal with horrific realities on a daily basis and always do their best to keep the city safe.
Collector’s point of view: Theo Wenner is represented by Art Partner in New York, Paris and London (here). His work has yet to find its way to secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for interested collectors to follow.