Arne Svenson's art practice has led him down numerous and varied paths of visual exploration from landscape photographs of Las Vegas to portraits of sock monkeys, forensic facial reconstructions, chewed dog toys and medical museum specimens. Currently, in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Museum, he is working on a long-term portrait project with a group of autistic teenagers.
First and foremost in Svenson's practice is to seek out the inner life, the essence, of his subjects, whether they be human, inanimate, or something in between. He uses his camera as a reporter uses text, to create a narrative that facilitates the understanding of that which may lie hidden or obscured. This narrative, at times only a whisper or suggestion, weaves throughout his divergent body of work.
In one of his earliest projects, Svenson transformed plants and flowers into mutated creations, which appear to have been surgically transformed. He sewed pansy patches on to damaged flowers, or combined one species with another to somehow better function in this world. The encyclopedic nature of these series is seen in a later project called Faggots in which he invited gay men indiscriminately to his studio and had them pose in a completely neutral environment, either clothed or naked. The series reveals the impossibility of stereotyping and the fascination of the individual.
Regular trips to Las Vegas over many years forced Svenson out of the studio. The bizarre, artificial yet mundane surroundings spurred him to create a deadpan yet luscious black and white record of the trappings of Oz in the desert. Svenson's first book, Prisoners, came about after the discovery of a collection of turn of the century glass plate negatives from Northern California recording newly arrested suspects as classic frontal and profile mug shots. He printed these negatives, bringing the subjects alive, and painstakingly researched each of their stories. The mug shots of Faggots and Prisoners presaged the Sock Monkey project - a portrait series of a collection of sock monkeys, which, as a book, was published in 2002. Each portrait imbued the subject with as much uniqueness and clarity as a DNA model.
Unspeaking Likeness, photographs of forensic facial reconstruction sculptures was a project in which Svenson was driven to resuscitate the moribund, the dead. He traveled around the USA and Mexico photographing these objects using a large format camera, trying to breath life into the likenesses of victims of heinous crimes.
Some time ago Svenson began photographing the windows of a neighboring building through the windows of his. He was intrigued not only by the implied stories within the frame of the glass but also by the play of light upon the subjects, the shadows, the framing of the structure and the references to historical painting. He records the turn of the head, the graceful arc of a hand, the human form obscured by drapery --Svenson is not photographing the people as specific, identifiable individuals, more as representations of human kind, of us. Careful not to reveal identities -- the strength of the imagery lies in fact that we can see ourselves in the anonymous figures of The Neighbors.