Photos by S. Billie Mandle entries for Photolucida's Critical Mass 2009
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. I chose to photograph confessionals because they are a physical manifestation of an abstract theology; they give form and structure 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. 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 these rooms and the traditions they hold are a familiar part of my upbringing. However, in making these images I approach the confessionals as metaphorical spaces – structures that suggest the ways people reckon with the complexities of faith and forgiveness.
S. Billie Mandle