How to take a good political mugshot, should you need to

August 20

Did you hear that Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.) got indicted by a grand jury? It was in the news.

The problem with getting indicted for an elected official is that such things can have a deleterious effect on your political career. While voters sometimes don't mind voting for accused criminals (or convicted criminals), it's not generally seen as an asset.

So when Perry went in for his booking photo Tuesday, there was a lot on the line. Even if he beats the charges (which seems likely), there's still that awkward arrest photo that will be floating around on the Web. And so it was, where people quickly began to goof on it.

(Perry didn't get to wear his glasses because the Austin facility where the photo was taken doesn't allow it.)

All things considered, this was not a terrible photo. Unlike the booking photo for, say, former Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, there were no height markers, no face-forward-now-look-to-your-right composites. It just looks like a (crummy) photo of Rick Perry.

We decided to rank other famous political booking photos on two criteria: How good they looked and how politically damaging the photos were. How did we assess the aesthetics? Using the flawless online assessment tool at Anaface.com. (It is not really flawless.) Political survivability was ranked on a scale from 0 to 10, a zero being enormously damaging and a 10 being not damaging at all.

The goal here was, first, to keep you entertained on an August Wednesday. But secondarily, to offer some advice to future political arrestees, not that such a thing will ever happen again, of course.

Here is our ranking, which is objective and indisputable.


7. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)


(HO/Airport Police via AP)

Arrested for: Alleged improper behavior in an airport restroom

Beauty Survivability Total
6.88 1 7.88

Craig had a few strikes against him. First of all, he has the two-up style of mugshot, which is inescapably a mugshot. Second, the lighting - which, as you'll see, makes a massive difference - is extremely harsh. But he didn't help matters by looking angry and petulant.

This is how not to take a mugshot.

6. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.)


(U.S. Marshall Service via AP)

Arrested for: Allegedly trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat

Beauty Survivability Total
5.92 3 8.92

Blago apparently stopped by the police station after going out for a jog. He looks tired, his attire is overly casual, and the concrete wall behind him makes it clear that he's being photographed in some type of institution.

As for the appearance score, Anaface suggests that it offers an objective standard, but it's clearly influenced by the picture itself. Whether or not Blagojevich is objectively less attractive than Craig is subjective. But Anaface says he is, by some distance.

5. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)


(Alexandria Police Department via Reuters)

Arrested for: DUI

Beauty Survivability Total
5.19 5 10.19

Crapo's picture is not good, but he has two advantages. First, it's not obviously a mugshot. And second, he's dressed so casually that it almost looks like a photo his wife took right after he got out of bed. The senator recently announced that he would seek another term, so residents of Idaho should get used to seeing this photo.

4. Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio)


(AP)

Arrested for: Corruption

Beauty Survivability Total
6.44 5 11.44

You will notice that the image above is not a mugshot. Traficant's mugshot (or, one of them) can be seen here. (We don't have rights to it.) But I would submit that you cannot have any decent assessment of political mugshots without including Jim "Wait, Is That Hair?" Traficant.

It's a brutal photo. But he got a decent score on survivability because he very nearly collected enough petitions to get on the ballot to run for the House in 2010 — after serving out his prison term.

3. Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.)


(Austin Police Department via AP)

Arrested for: Alleged abuse of power

Beauty Survivability Total
7.59 7 14.59

Look, Rick Perry's a good-looking guy. Mugshots, like drivers license photos, rarely do their subjects justice, but Perry did okay here. The lighting, though. Darker pictures always make their subjects look more guilty, and that's clearly the case here. Perry's expression doesn't really help; he didn't quite pull off a smile, which, to be fair, must be hard under the circumstances.

2. Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.)


(U.S. Marshal Service via Reuters)

Arrested for: Alleged campaign finance violations

Beauty Survivability Total
7.9 8 15.9

One of John Edwards's main political assets was that he took a good photo. His mugshot is typical in that regard, though the lighting is a little harsh. But he looks like a politician in a bad photo, not an accused criminal facing to a difficult trial. We will note, however, that wearing a tie with octopi on it is a weird choice.

1. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)

(Harris County Sheriff Department)
(Harris County Sheriff Department)

Arrested for: Alleged campaign finance violations

Beauty Survivability Total
7.47 10 17.47

DeLay's first booking photo is the gold standard of political mugshots, and with good reason. The big grin, the absence of any you-are-in-a-police-station indicia, the lapel pin. It's like class picture day on Capitol Hill. DeLay could use this photo on a mailpiece. To illustrate the importance of the mugshot appearance, here's a separate photo of DeLay for another booking process.


(Travis County Sheriff's Office via AP)

This is not a good photo. He looks like Nick Nolte, not the majority leader of the House. Which brings us to our last and final tip: The first photo is the one that counts. If Rick Perry comes out tomorrow with another mugshot with even lighting, a "Perry 2016" lapel pin and a puppy on his shoulders: Too late. (But we'd still like to see that photo anyway.)

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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