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10 The Albany Law Journal 61
July 25, 1874

    Photographs in Evidence

  1. We have several times during the last two or three years had occasion to notice cases in which photographs were admitted in evidence on the question of identity, and the admissibility of this species of evidence seems now to be very generally conceded. In the case of Udderzook v. Commonwealth, recently decided by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the question arose. The following is an extract from the opinion of the court, per Agnew, Ch J., on the point:

    "All the bills of exceptions, except one, relate to this question of identity, the most material being those relating to the use of a photograph of Goss. This photograph, taken in Baltimore, on the same plate with a gentleman named Langley, was clearly proved by him, and also by the artist who took it. Many objections were made to the use of this photograph, the chief being to the admission of it to identify Wilson as Goss; the prisoner's counsel regarding this use of it as certainly incompetent. That a portrait or a miniature painted from life, and proved to resemble the person, may be used to identify him, cannot be doubted, though, like all other evidences of identity, it is open to this proof or doubt, and must be determined by the jury. There seems to be no reason why a photograph, proved to be taken from life, and to resemble the person photographed, should not fill the same measure of evidence. It is true, the photographs we see are not the original likenesses, their lines are not traced by the hand of the artist, nor can the artist be called to testify that he faithfully limned the portrait. They are but paper copies taken from the original plate, called the negative, made sensitive by chemicals, and printed by the sun-light through the camera. It is the result of art, guided by certain principles of science.

    "In the case before us, such a photograph of the man Goss was presented to a witness who had never seen him, so far as he knew, but had seen a man known as Wilson. The purpose was to show that Goss and Wilson were one and the same person. It is evident that the competency of the evidence in such a case depends on the reliability of the photograph as a work of art, and this, in the case before us, in which no proof was made by experts of this reliability, must depend upon the judicial cognizance we may take of photographs as an established means of producing a correct likeness. The Daguerrean process was first given to the world in 1839. It was soon followed by photography, of which we have had nearly a generation's experience. It has become a customary and a common mode of taking and preserving views, as well as the likenesses of persons, and has obtained universal assent to the correctness of its delineations. We know that its principles are derived from science; that the images on the plate, made by the rays of light through the camera, are dependent on the same general laws which produce the images of outward forms upon the retina through the lenses of the eye. The process has become one in general use, so common that we cannot refuse to take judicial cognizance of it as a proper means of producing correct likenesses."