Andrew Cunanan

Above: FBI file photos of murder suspect Andrew Cunanan in 1997. Credit: Public Domain.


A series of portraits of the serial killer Andrew Cunanan--the murderer of Gianni Versace--assembled by FBI and law enforcement in the US are prima facie evidence of the way in which the sociopath or psychopath is often able to alter their physical appearance to suit many different social situations; becoming plausible, memorable, or unmemorable (characterless), seemingly at will.

This is the talent, of course, of Highsmith's Talented Tom Ripley. Dickie Greenleaf: "Everybody should have one talent, what's yours?" Tom Ripley: "Forging signatures, telling lies... impersonating practically anybody."

As a photo-theorist with an interest in criminality and deviance I am drawn to and fascinated by the visual photo-effect of the FBI set of Cunanan. Like Dylan's Sara, Cunanan was, it seems, "so easy to look at, so hard to define."

The basic photo-effect in regard of this unpindownability is caused by work for the eye to do insofar as the viewer is activated visually: scanning back and forward across the visual plane carrying out a little compare-and-contrast activity, which can last as long as you like.

This activated effort in the viewer of such assemblages means that the audience, the receiver, is stimulated and has become a sort of photo-detective scanning for similarities and dissonances. Translated across to the scene of creative photography such "compare these" challenges can be useful precisely for their tendency to wake the viewer into a definite cognitive purpose when looking.

(25 March 2018)