High Fashion Crime Scene: Lights, Camera, Exploit!

Melanie Pullen’s High Fashion Crime Art Photography
At the junction of art, beauty, and death.
Photographer and visual artist Melanie Pullen resurrects the morbid fascination with women, beauty, and death in her exhibit “High Fashion Crime Scenes”. (Be warned that the collection features graphic images that some may find disturbing.) It is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Jacksonville in the Atrium Gallery from July 16th to November 6th. According to an article from The Florida Times-Union, Pullen’s inspiration came from Luc Sante’s “Evidence,” a collection of crime scene photos taken in New York City from 1914 and 1918 as well as archival images from Los Angeles Police Department and coroner’s offices.

The exhibit pieces, shown in floor-to-ceiling hanging prints, are equal parts haute couture and seedy murder. The artist states that the gritty exploitation in “High Fashion Crime Scenes” highlights the dehumanization of victims and the sensationalization of publicized murder cases and trials. The women’s corpses seem to be reduced to the level of mannequins, mere displays for expensive items that can be bought or sold.

Death on the Boardwalk, High Fashion Crime Scene
Fashionably late on the boardwalk.
In the late nineteenth century, one of the pioneers of crime fiction, Edgar Allan Poe wrote in The Philosophy of Composition,  “the death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably one of the most poetical topics in the world.” Even before Poe, the Victorian cultish kitsch for tragic death dominated art and literature of that era. The death of a beautiful woman, in particular, is no foreign subject—from the watery grave of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Poe’s Annabelle Lee.

High Fashion Crime Scene, Dead in the water, Melanie Pullen art photography
The dead woman’s float.
Tess Gerritsen’s article on Muderati, “Why Dead Women Sell Books” points out the overwhelming number of female victims in crime novels and how this phenomenon is becoming a commodified fetish. In his 1916 essay On Transcience, Sigmund Freud writes that the transient nature of beauty induces a foretaste for grief and mourning. The death of a woman, especially a young and beautiful woman, heightens the helpless outrage one feels towards the brevity of youth and ephemerality of beauty. The volatile and fickle world of fashion, with its endless convolution of standards of beauty, is the perfect haunted graveyard. The balance between beautiful and grotesque is in constant flux. In this light, there are definite similarities in the worlds of high fashion and crime fiction.

For more articles on the characterizations of women in crime, please click our tag for Feminism. To read the on-going discussion on victimizing women in fiction, also check out the articles “Was Nancy Drew My First Victim?” by Wendy Crutcher, and “Victimizing Our Heroines” by J.T. Ellison.

All images © Melanie Pullen High Fashion Crime Scenes


  1. Saundra Peck

    As a retired police officer, I find the idea of this art exhibit HIGHLY offensive. We may all watch the news, read murder mysteries, etc., but to actually use crime scene photos as an art exhibit is just wrong!!! Maybe the photogropher should go out on death scenes with the police and see how deaths really traumatize everyone…from the police to witnesses and family. Criminals may dehumanize victims, but no one else should…including “artists”, even as a statement to provoke thought.

  2. Christopher Morgan

    This reminds me of a movie I once saw called Eyes of Laura Mars. The premise was that there was a fashion photographer who used violent imagery in her work and began seeing through the eyes of a serial killer. It was pretty interesting and had Faye Dunaway and a young Tommy Lee Jones.

    But in all honesty these photos seem a bit more tame than what photographers simulate…not sure what that says about us as a society…

  3. Clare 2e

    These photos are all posed with models for effect, not actual crime scenes, which tend not to care about prettiness or proportion or having the right light. I recall artist and model [url=http://www.cindysherman.com/art.shtml]Cindy Sherman[/url], who created similar scenes, where viewers might feel themselves entering a strange, staged scene where things had gone horribly wrong.

  4. Nude Photography Tips

    Faceless portraits can often be equally, if not more powerful, than those that show the model’s face! Read about how to take nudes on our website PhotographyTalk.com. If you’ve seen much boudoir photography or artistic nude photography, you know that often the model’s face doesn’t appear in the shot. Don’t be afraid to capture photographs of the model from behind or the side, or to crop images in the post to omit the model’s face.

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