The photography class at Brewer High School has covered many subjects this year, according to co-instructor Marion MacEwen. The students have learned about artistic photography, did a unit on photojournalism, and have discussed famous photographers. But on Friday, Dec. 7, they got a look at the field of forensic photography.
“We’re always looking for ways to pique the interest of different kids,” she said. “With an elective course you get a really mixed group. Not everybody’s necessarily an art person or wanting to go the art-photography or event-photography route… The greater the variety we can bring in, the better it is for them.”
The presentation could be an ideal career-exploration topic. “For the kids who are very interested in photography as a potential career… this could be an interesting route to go, especially for those kids who are more interested in science than art,” said MacEwen.
Brewer Police Department Detective Jay Munson, who has been with the department for 23 years and has been a detective for 11, has taken numerous courses about forensic photography, but there’s no official licensure for that job. Instead, knowing the procedures, and shooting lots of crime-scene photos over the years, has given him a wealth of experience.
“I guess I wouldn’t want to count how many pictures I’ve taken,” he said.
During the presentation, Munson explained the importance of crime-scene photos. Until recently, police had to shoot with film, as it was believed digital images were too easy to alter. Digitals are allowed now, but the photographers need to keep their originals. They also must not omit any numerically-named images; everything they shoot, good or bad, must be provided, to eliminate any potential appearance of impropriety. For example, a missing photo could be construed by the defense as the police hiding evidence that could exonerate the accused.
Homicides, major assaults, robberies, burglaries, and car accidents are typical events requiring Munson to be on the scene with his camera. He must present visual evidence that demonstrates why he charged the suspect with the crime, and it’s easier to show exactly what he saw than to try to explain it.
“I need to paint a picture for the prosecutor, for the judge, maybe the jury, and also for the defense attorney,” Munson told the students. “When we photograph, we need to prove [the crime], because the burden of proof is on the state. If I charge you with a crime, you don’t have to prove you didn’t do it; I have to prove that you did do it. That’s part of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”
MacEwan said the presentation was a success.
“We were all pleased with Detective Munson’s presentation,” MacEwen told The Weekly in an email following the event. “Students asked a lot of good questions on topics ranging from equipment and camera settings to maintaining a level of detachment while working on a disturbing crime scene.”
She said Munson was very careful about what images were shown to the students, focusing on the process of documenting a crime scene instead of anything for shock value.
“We would love to have Detective Munson return to future classes,” she said. “It’s great to have people from the community contribute in such a direct way to our students’ education.”