Ross School - Senior Project 2007-08

Student: Chelsea Berger

Mentor: Kerry Sharkey-Miller


Title: Whacked!


In the late 19th century, photography became an important part of a murder investigation. Photographs could show every angle and detail that could be looked back at during the course of the investigation. However, it wasn't until the mid 20th century that forensic photography took off especially in the world of journalism and tabloids.  When looking at the works of WeeGee (Arthur Fellig) and news archives, I noticed a distinct artistic component to the strictly scientific photographs. In my project, I wanted to blend the artistic and scientific genres and try to walk the line between art and science. In order to achieve this, I staged murder scenes based on my interpretation of actual murders and used forensic procedures and techniques to document the murder in order to be as realistic as possible while still maintaining my artistic voice.


All my images were shot digitally in RAW format and then edited in Bridge and Photoshop. The final images are three different sizes: 21x14, 9x14, and 10x7.






Above is a screen shot from Photoshop. In my process, I edited each picture by digitally dodging and burning through using adjustment layers. The layers, on the right, control a different part of the image. For example, one layer lightens the skin tones while a different layer lightens the grasses.








Above is one example of a murder case in my show. As shown here, all the cases were made up of 4 to 6 photos plus a case file. The photos ranged in sizes. The larger photos (21x14) were the establishing shots and victim shots.  The smaller photos ( 9x14, 10x7) were the detail and evidence shots of the case. This case was the Grace Brown Murder.

















The inspiration from Whacked! originally came from an exhibit I visited over the summer entitled “Visible Proofs”. I loved how there was beauty where it wasn't intentional. I immediately knew that this is what my project was going to be about; I loved photography and science plus it was a unique, shocking subject. 

The next step was doing lots of research because I didn't really know anything about being in the forensic field other than what I saw on TV. I first researched the history of forensics and discovered many influential photographers to my project specifically Alphonse Bertillon and WeeGee. My outside consultant gave me great first hand sources about being a forensic detective. I learned the most important things to do while at a crime scene so that I could adopt the persona of a forensic photographer when shooting. Lastly, I researched different murder stories and narrowed them down to a select few that I wanted to include in my project.

There was a lot of planning that had to be done before I could shoot anything. I had to plan out where I was going to shoot, who I was going to shoot, all the props and wardrobing. In addition, I had to pre-plan all of the shots I was going to take in the photo shoot including the shots of the evidence.

When everything was planned out to the max, I finally began to shoot. I had to become very active when shooting. Since my models couldn't move, I had to constantly be moving and looking for new, interesting angles. I stood on couches, counter tops, ladders, basically anything to get the shot. When shooting the evidence, I also had to adopt the principles used to shoot the victims.

The next step after shooting was working in the photo lab. I would first look at all the images shot in Bridge and then select approximately 10 images that all work together to cohesively tell my story.  Through Bridge, I would convert the images to black and white. I originally wanted to do my images in color, but I  chose to do my images in black and white so that my images would look more of the time period as well as allow for me to have some technical mistakes. The images were then opened in Adobe photoshop and digitally dodged and burned sections of my photos which is explained earlier in the Details Section.

After editing, I had to print, mount, and hang my photos. This took a very long time to do because of the amount of caution you have to take. Before printing anything, several steps need to be done which makes it very easy to make a mistake. When dry-mounting photos, you have to be very careful so that dust or air bubbles do not get trapped underneath the image. Then, I hung all my images and finally had the opening night.

There were many challenges throughout the whole process especially in time management. It was really hard to have a job, be on the sports team, apply to college and still have time to shoot. There were times that I had to re shoot things more than once because I didn't have that much time to shoot everything properly the first time. I also had model problems. There were a few shoots where my models moved and dead people can't move. Thus I had to re shoot the whole scene over again. I also had problems with models not looking dead enough. Sometimes their limbs didn't fall right or their body didn't look realistic.

Overall, I am really happy with the outcome of my project. I expanded my skills as a photographer. I had never done anything in this style before so I defiantly learned a lot of new tricks and techniques that will influence my photography in the future. I don't think I want to major in either photography or forensic science, but I know that I want photography to always be in my life.

Works Consulted

Buckland, Gail. Shots in the Dark. Boston; Little Brown, 2001.

Ellroy, James, and Tim B. Wride. Scene of the Crime. New York; Harry N. Abrams, INC., 2004.

Hannigan, William. New York Noir: Crime Photos From the Daily News Archive. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, INC, 1999.

Macgowan, Douglas. "The Missing Boat." Crime Library:TruTV. Viewed 14 Jan. 2008. <

Moenssens, Andre, A, et. al. Scientific Evidence In Criminal Cases. New York: The Foundation Press, Inc, 1986.

Ramsland, Katherine. "The Bodies." Crime Library: TruTV. Viewed 14 Jan. 2008.<>.

Sharkey. “Re: senior project” E-mail to Chelsea Berger. 17 Nov. 2007.

Sharkey. “Re: senior project” E-mail to Chelsea Berger. 1 Dec. 2007.

Sharkey. “Re: senior project” E-mail to Chelsea Berger. 9 Dec. 2007.

Snyder, LeMoyne. Homicide Investigation: Practical Information for Coroners, Police Officers, and Other Investigators. Sprinfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1959.

Wilkes, Roger, ed. The Mammoth Book of Unsolved Crimes. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005.

Community Member (Details)

My outside consultant was Detective Sharkey. He really helped me a lot throughout my whole process. Detective Sharkey gave me great reading material as well as real tools that a forensic photographer would use for example finger print dust, evidence cards, toe tags, etc. I also got a lot of great feed back on my work that helped me to make my images more realistic and stronger as a whole group. His information and advice gave my project an edge and realistic feel.