Prisoners is a collection of seventy extraordinary portraits of turn-of-the-century prisoners and the fascinating newspaper and prison accounts from their day describing the crimes of which they were accused. Printed from their original glass negatives, these powerful photographs capture the character and pathos of men, young and old, charged with crimes as desperate as the theft of a pair of shoes and as cold-blooded as murder.

During a serendipitous visit to a California antiques shop, Arne Svenson discovered a small box containing twelve vintage glass negative mugshots, each featuring a dual portrait of a man, with hat and without, along with his name and a crime inscribed directly into the emulsion of the glass. A fine-arts photographer, Svenson brought the negatives to his studio in New York City, made prints from the negatives, and discovered that what he had found were hauntingly beautiful images. He eventually was able to acquire several hundred more negatives, keeping intact what appeared to be a collection of mugshots all taken by a single photographer (Clara Smith, active 1904-1908). With nothing more than an image, name, and crime, he embarked on a search to uncover the history of these silent men's lives. Turn-of-the-century newspapers, court records, and prison records yielded wonderfully rich stories of each man's predicament. Reconnecting the accounts of their misdeeds and misfortunes with their rare photographs, Svenson has created much more than a mere rogues' gallery: Prisoners is an aesthetic, historical, and philosophical evocation of the lives of these forgotten men.