Arne Svenson: Prisoners
January 8, 1998 - February 21, 1998
Reception: Thursday, January 8, 1998, 6-8 PM
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11-6
Prisoners, an exhibition of turn-of-the-century mugshots opens at the gallery next month. Discovered, researched and printed by New York artist, Arne Svenson, they are the product of Clara Sheldon, a photographer who was contracted by the town of Marysville, California from 1900-1908. Between these years she chronicled a wide range of municipal felons revealing the diversity and eccentricities of the former gold rush town through her subjects and their alleged crimes. These contemporary prints are astonishing and psychological through their representation of a wide age group and ethnic diversity.
Each photo is presented as a pair, providing a frontal shot of the subject wearing a hat and a side profile without. Etched directly into the plate is the felon's name and, underneath, the offense. (They range anywhere from "petit larceny," assault and disturbing the peace, to arson, rape and murder.) While all are sharply in focus, the obvious imperfections lend to a solid presence of the original glass negative from which they are reprinted. At once, the infection of time and history haunt the faces and atmospheres of these sitters.
Svenson reissues these images today in a larger format countering the original intent of the photograph as a civic register. Thus, we are challenged to see personal qualities in the faces, postures, and clothing, all the while leaving behind our preconceived notions of a community offender, viewing without judgement. The show confirms that a practice striving for objectivity has become movingly subjective through a photographer's lens. Svenson's honesty to Sheldon's eye and nearly a century's worth of time works to pull out the individual character of the subjects and a community long past.
A selection of more than twenty images will be installed in the main gallery from January 8 - 14th. Following, a smaller group will be exhibited in the 2nd Gallery until February 21.
As book by the same name, Prisoners, has also been published by Blast Books. Arne Svenson's Las Vegas series was given a solo show at the gallery in April, 1997.