S. Billie Mandle
November 24 –
These photographs were made in confessionals, the small rooms found in Catholic churches where people confess their sins. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have theologies of repentance, a sequence of interdependent acknowledgments and responses that must be undergone before the penitent can be reconciled to God. In all of these religions penance must be enacted; it is performed physically as well as mentally and spiritually.
The confessional is unusual in that it is a physical manifestation of an abstract theology; it gives structure and form to the interiority of penance. The walls and kneelers embody the thoughts and prayers of the penitents, and the penitents in turn leave their mark on the architecture. I am interested in how the photographs, as physical objects, might speak to what is intangible and ineffable about these spaces.
I called this series Reconciliation in part because that is what the church now calls the sacrament of penance, but also because confessionals are spaces that contain contradiction. They are rooms that hold darkness and light, sin and transcendence. They are places where people confess their sins and ask for grace surrounded by the remnants of fellow parishioners’ past confessions. Such contradictions are a part of the individual experience of faith that I try to explore with this work.
The act of photographing the confessional has become a ritual for me: I use a large format camera and available light, lifting the curtain of the confessionals and looking into the darkness, just as I lift the dark cloth of the camera. I was raised Catholic and so the traditions of these rooms are familiar to me. In making these images, though, I approach the confessionals as metaphorical spaces – structures that suggest the ways people grapple with the complexities of faith and forgiveness.