Forensic scientist builds portraits from fingerprints

We usually think of fingerprints as clues to uncovering an identity — one that a perpetrator would rather remain hidden. New York artist and forensic scientist Jennifer Hannaford is playing on this theme with an interesting twist: She’s created mug shots of famous individuals, such as Frank Sinatra, Whitey Bulger, and John Dillinger, using her own inked fingerprints as the medium.

Hannaford uses a pointillism technique in which the portraits are composed of fingerprint upon fingerprint. When viewed from a certain distance, the prints merge together for the viewer, creating the overall image. (She cites artist Chuck Close, among others, as inspiration for the series.)

Lili St. Cyr

Burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr. All images courtesy of Jennifer Hannaford.

John Dillinger

Bank robber John Dillinger.

To date, Hannaford has created more than 13 portraits, and her work will be on display at Imagine Gallery on September 21 as part of an exhibit titled “Cons and Icons.”

While she had an early interest in art, Hannaford decided to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic science. Her work in the field has included processing crime scenes and evidence to obtain fingerprints for comparisons. The intricate process of gathering information from a crime scene in some ways mirrors her artwork, with all of the small details combining to form a larger picture, she recently explained in a Times Beacon article.

Other notable mug shots recreated by Hannaford include burlesque artist Lili St. Cyr, musicians Jim Morrison and David Bowie, the infamous Al Capone, Freedom Rider Margaret Leonard, and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. The fingerprint technique of creating the portraits gives them a grainy feel that seemed to go well with the original vintage mug shots, her online bio explains.

Whitey Bulger

Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Frank Sinatra

Singer Frank Sinatra.

Hannaford also found mug shots interesting because of the vulnerability they capture, according to her website:

Mug shots capture the individual in a most vulnerable moment, unscripted and beyond choice. While these images are necessary documentation for criminal records, they reveal more. An entire range of unmasked emotions is accessible. Some images depict the individual not wanting to be arrested and booked for their actions, while others depict one taking that risk to make a statement.

These mug shots then, in a sense, reveal something of a person’s identity — much as their fingerprint would.

More information about the series is available at jenniferhannaford.com and on her artist Facebook page.


Nicole is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.


  1. I was able to view some of her painting & speak with her on Nov.6,2013 at The Esperson Gallery in Houston,TX
    Here work is amazing!

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