Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America


January 12 – February 17, 2007


Andrew Roth is pleased to present an exhibition of over 100 American true-crime magazines, focusing on the decade of the 1950s. The American true-crime magazine was born in the 1920s, flourished until the 1960s, and faded slowly over the next 40 years. In a history spanning almost eight decades, true-crime magazines published millions of pictures. These included official police photographs, photos of crime scenes staged with models, and wild photographic montages mixing the genuine and the fake. True crime magazine imagery moved back and forth between authentic-looking documents of crime scenes and lurid renderings of vice-ridden criminal underworlds.

This exhibition shows the central role played by crime in the visual culture of the 20th century. Criminality gave photographers modern and powerful ways of imagining the nighttime city or the deserted country road. From the beginning, true-crime magazine photographs borrowed their styles from popular and fine art traditions. Photographers and art directors who trained in New York street photography, Soviet constructivist design, and Surrealist transgression made their living working for true crime magazines. Professionally trained tabloid photojournalists and police photographers supplemented their incomes selling pictures to magazines like Inside Detective and Best Detective Cases.

This exhibition shows how the major currents of 20th-century image-making came together in the true-crime magazine. Its focus is the 1950s, a decade which saw the true crime magazine at its sleaziest and most artistically inventive.

To coincide with the exhibition, PPP Editions in association with Andrew Roth has published Cyanide and Sin by Will Straw.