Needle Work: A History of Professional Tattooing in Canada
This study examines the development of commercial tattooing in Canada from its emergence in the late nineteenth century to the contemporary epoch. Using several Canadian cities and regions as case studies, I explore how tattooists navigated their profession’s complex occupational terrain. I show that professional tattooing exists on a continuum of expertise, occupying the interstices between cultural production and practical work, on which practitioners developed methods and undertook efforts to present tattooing as a legitimate career. A monograph based on this work is currently under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press. Preliminary findings have been published in Urban History Review and Journal of Canadian Studies.
Unseen Images: Concealing Visual Culture in Contemporary Canada
This project investigates what I call “unseen images” and focuses on the custodianship of visual culture by public institutions in Canada, including museums, police forces, and transportation agencies. I consider the moral, legal, institutional, and political consequences of how these bodies amass images under the guise of public interest while simultaneously withholding access to them. Advocating for a gadfly-type approach to the study of visual culture, I use several rigorously researched case studies—ranging in subject matter from graffiti to public monuments—to question how and why these institutions conceal images. Simultaneously, I engage with and challenge the same bureaucratic and legal frameworks they employ to do so. Click here for a recent successful ruling related to this project at the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec against the Société de transport de Montréal (for the original French text, click here).
Skin and Bones: Human Remains, Crime, and Museums in Quebec
This research investigates a museum collection of over one hundred human remains removed from the bodies of victims of crime in Quebec during the first half of the twentieth century. I explore who these remains belonged to, the circumstances surrounding their deaths, and the subsequent display of their body parts at a space in the province’s medicolegal laboratory known as the “morgue museum.” I then probe this collection following its transfer from Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security to the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City in 1997. I show how these institutions have used human remains to promote provincially sanctioned historical narratives that intentionally overlook the practice of collecting bodily pieces from the corpses of people victimized by crime.
Seeing Crime: The Development of Criminal Identification in Canada
The Canadian government implemented the Identification of Criminals Act during 1898, which mandated that criminals submit to having their physical characteristics recorded by law enforcement. Accordingly, this project examines how Canadian police forces have employed images to track criminals and fight crime from the turn of the century to the present day. Studying the use of photography, fingerprinting, sculpted masks, composite sketches, video surveillance, and facial recognition software, I demonstrate how criminal identification is fundamentally rooted in visual culture—a process that created new and significant corpuses of images, modes of display and dissemination, and networks of communication.