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Arne Svenson, The Neighbors #11, 2012 © Arne Svenson, Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York

The Prying Eye Of The Public Lens, a response piece I wrote for the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hillman Photography Initiative was published earlier today.

A greater cynic than I might argue that Arne Svenson was working for the state when making photographs of his neighbors. One might suggest this not because there is any inherent value, lest any valuable information about the individuals within the snooping shots, but rather, because the brouhaha that erupted around the exhibition of The Neighbors at the Julie Saul Gallery was a distorting and damaging version of the ongoing conversation about privacy in our society.

I go on to explain how the protestations of Svenson’s (very affluent) neighbours, lawsuits and public outcry derailed us from actually seeing the more pernicious and invasive layers of surveillance we are subject to daily … and especially in New York city.

Read the 1,200 words here.


The inaugural HPI at CMOA “investigates the lifecycle of images: their creation, transmission, consumption, storage, potential loss, and reemergence. Technology accelerates the pace of this cycle, and often alters or redirects the trajectory of an image in unexpected, powerful ways.”

Transition and consumption: Love that. I’m proud to be associated with CMOA’s broader consideration of images within society. HPI is getting inside the bloodstreams of the media and changing the discussion.

Claude Hankins

Thomas Gordon

Without question, the mugshot is a dominant “genre” in American photography. Least Wanted, aka Mark Michaelson, has released a book of his collected mugshots, Danny Lyon is fascinated by them, I’ve been seduced from time to time.

Arne Svenson is another artist who has put together mugshots (this time from the 19th century) to make a book. Svenson is a portraitist and his art is more complex when his collected mugshots and his headshots of forensic dummies & sock monkeys are considered alongside one another.


“Svenson’s first book entitled Prisoners came about after the discovery of a collection of turn of the century glass plate negatives from Northern California recording convicted criminals as classic frontal and profile mug shots. He lovingly printed these negatives, bringing the subjects alive, and painstakingly researched each of their stories.” (Source)

Elliott Peterson

W.M. Heron


Svenson spent four years traveling around the country to coroner’s offices and law enforcement agencies photographing forensic identification aids in a classic portraiture style. Twin Palms Publications will publish a book of this work, entitled Unspeaking Likeness, in 2010.

© Arne Svenson


Unsurprisingly, the public and the market love Svenson’s 200 Sock Monkey portraits.

Sock Monkey #1761, 2001, Gelatin Silver Print. © Arne Svenson

See more at Jan Kesner Gallery


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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