If you’re interested in how violent crime resonates through American culture, you could do worse than to study the case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, the Nebraska teens who murdered ten people and a dog over the course of eight days in January 1958. Their spree has inspired at least a half-dozen movies, including Terrence Malick’s 1973 Badlands, and prompted Bruce Springsteen to write the song “Nebraska” (“Me and her went for a ride, sir, and ten innocent people died”). Now visual artist Christian Patterson has traced the pair’s path with original photographs that he displays alongside actual images and documents from the case, blurring the line between fiction and fact.
Patterson’s installation is part of “Crime Unseen,” a new group show that looks at mayhem through the lens of the camera—a modern invention, says curator Karen Irvine, that offers the public “voyeuristic access” to violence. Angela Strassheim photographs old crime scenes, using a chemical spray to bring back the ghosts of bloodstains long since scrubbed away. Krista Wortendyke has documented the site of every homicide committed in Chicago between October 28, 2010, and January 15, 2011 (the dates of “Crime Unseen” minus a year). Corinne May Botz’s pictures depict the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” true-to-scale miniature crime scenes created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s and ’50s to help train detectives in forensics. A Chicago heiress who earned the honorary title of police captain, Lee used her mother’s old needlework to create clothing for tiny murder victims and incorporated details from her own home into the dioramas. She called her life “lonely and rather terrifying.”