For ten years S. Billie Mandle
photographed confessionals throughout the United States. She visited churches in small towns and large cities, creating images that depict the visible -- and invisible -- traces of people, communities, histories and dogmas. The images speak to the beliefs that define these dark rooms and shape this intimate yet institutional ritual. Photographing from the perspective of the penitent, she used a large format camera and available light, creating images that are more metaphorical than typological. As a queer woman raised Catholic, Mandle has long had a complex relationship to the Church; these photographs are part confession, part reconciliation.
The distinguished American writer Kirstin Valdez Quade contributes an original piece of fiction to the book written in the voice of a penitent: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been seven years since my last confession. Eight months, no, nine. One week. I fought with my brother, three times. I punched him in the arm, but only once. Forgive me, Father. I cheated on my wife, Father. In the Radisson in Nashville. But the lady hit on me, and I was drunk and tired, and Susan can be so hard." (Excerpt from Reconciliation)
The book also features an excerpt from the seminal book The Long Loneliness by the late Dorothy Day, an activist, author, and founder of the Catholic Worker Movement who was hailed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan as 'the saint for our times.' "When you go to confession on a Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with the smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of a great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness." (Excerpt from The Long Loneliness).
The art magazine Cabinet published a piece about Mandle's Reconciliation project in the Fall 2016-Winter 2017 issue written by George Prochnik. He writes that one recognition that Mandle came to about confessionals "is that the imprint of what these spaces not only witnessed but lived through was so palpably vivid that the rooms themselves assumed the character of the church's heroic intercessors. These chambers carried scars suggesting martyrdom and sacriﬁce -- as well as lyric plays of light and color, attesting to the possibility of grace. In both their luminous composure and rank degradation, we sense the extreme experiences that once quivered the air here, reﬂected by and absorbed into the well-worn surfaces. This may help explain why the pictures share a kind of harrowing 'afterlife' quality with early Nan Goldin hotel rooms, when Goldin was helping to develop the language of 'confessional art.'"
S. Billie Mandle is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA, and Amherst, MA. Her work is internationally exhibited and published, including exhibitions in Korea, Israel and France, and features in Aperture and Cabinet. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New York Foundation for the Arts and was a finalist at the Hyères Festival de Photographie. She earned a BA in biology from Williams College and an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Mandle is an assistant professor of photography at Hampshire College in Amherst.
Kirstin Valdez Quade is the author of Night at the Fiestas, which won the John Leonard Prize from the National Book Critics Circle, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. It was a New York Times Notable Book and was named a best book of 2015 by the San Francisco Chronicle and the American Library Association. Quade is the recipient of the John Guare Writer's Fund Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, among other honors. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing department at Princeton University.
Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist, Christian anarchist, and Catholic convert who was dedicated to fighting for the poor and the homeless. Day initially lived a bohemian lifestyle before gaining public attention as an activist after her conversion to Catholicism. She was a political radical, perhaps the best-known radical in American Catholic Church history. The Long Loneliness, her memoir, subtitled, "The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist," is a testament to her life of social activism and her spiritual pilgrimage.