Some years ago I discovered a cache of glass negative mug shots taken in the early 20th century; each negative was inscribed with the man’s name and alleged crime. In order to research the life of each man pictured in the 500 negatives, I spent the next three years traveling back and forth from New York to the small Northern California town where the photos were taken. I discovered the photographs were taken by Clara Smith, a town photographer more accustomed to taking images of brides and babies than newly arrested suspects. The only extant records of the men's crimes were the newspapers of the time, so I read through every copy of the daily newspaper(s) from 1901 to 1908 to find news of the men pictured in the images. The project resulted in the book, Prisoners, a collection of 70 images with accompanying narrative text on each subject.
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© ARNE SVENSON