Danziger Gallery (Los Angeles) presents “The Neighbors” by Arne Svenson. Following in the honored photographic tradition of Walker Evans’ “Subway Series” and Harry Callahan’s “Women Lost in Thought” the primary element these series have in common is that the subjects of the photographs are unaware of being photographed. While this is a common occurrence in photography, it asks moral and ethical questions of the photographer, the viewer, and the curator and requires decisions on what to photograph, what to view, and what to show.
As the owner and director of the gallery, where one draws the line is of great importance and for me Svenson’s work is respectful, original, humanistic, beautiful, and life affirming. To me Svenson’s “The Neighbors” are masterfully composed moments of everyday life in New York City seen through the Mondrianesque grid of the metal windowpanes – telephoto enabled observations of the human condition unimpaired by the self-consciousness of posed moments.
First and foremost, in Svenson’s practice is to seek out the inner life, the essence, of his subjects, whether they be human or inanimate. He uses his camera as a reporter uses text, to create a narrative that facilitates the understanding of things that are hidden or obscured.
Eleven years ago, using a telephoto lens Svenson began photographing scenes of everyday life as seen through windows of the newly constructed building across the street from where he had lived in Lower Manhattan for 30 years. 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. There is nothing salacious or prurient in his pictures and no-one can be identified as he respectfully avoided showing people’s faces or identities. Instead, he recorded the turn of the head, the graceful arc of a hand, the human form obscured by drapes. Svenson did not photograph the people as specific, identifiable individuals, but as representations of humankind. The strength of the imagery lies in the very universality of the common moments captured in what we see as the anonymous figures of “The Neighbors”.
First shown ten years ago, Svenson’s photographs created an international tabloid frenzy as the subjects of his pictures not only protested that the images were an invasion of privacy but took Svenson to court twice in an effort to block Svenson’s right to exhibit “The Neighbors”. In a victory for First Amendment and artists’ rights the plaintiffs lost their initial case and subsequent appeal, but their supporters continued to harass Svenson in every way possible.
Nevertheless, the work was defended, applauded, and acquired by major museums and collectors and widely recognized for its originality and (ironically) its sensitivity. When it was first shown in 2013 by the gallerist Julie Saul, I felt it was one of the strongest contemporary bodies of work I had seen and encouraged Julie to put it front and center at the prestigious Paris Photo exposition. With Julie’s passing, it is my privilege to now represent and share the work.
Arne Svenson is a self-taught photographer with a background in special education. His photographs are included in numerous public and private collections, including SFMOMA, Carnegie Museum of Art, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Norton Museum of Art. Svenson’s work has been reviewed/profiled in the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America and The New Yorker, among other publications. In 2016 he received the prestigious Nannen Prize in photojournalism for “The Neighbors”.
Arne Svenson : The Neighbors
March 4 – April 22, 2023
Bergamot Station – B1.
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica CA 90404