Memento Mori

Amy Elkins

May 4, 2011

All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt. — Susan Sontag

Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality." While some may reflect on this only in the grim light of death, the phrase also speaks of impermanence and the fluctuation of our daily existence, poetics of both the profound and the ordinary.

The works of these four female photographers explore their innate desire to pull away from the external world - individually creating isolated, specific, and personal reflections on family, mortality, identity, and heightened moments of transition or uncertainty. While all four are approaching their work in distinct ways, each is directing us to a profound stillness, a sense of memento mori, all the while setting a personal stage in which fiction and reality mesh for the viewer.

Roberta Ruocco's portraits of pre-pubescent adolescents speak of an exploration in identity crisis and role-play. Using full hair and makeup to create projected identities, these photographs transform girls ages 10-14 into older versions of themselves. The resulting portraits are beautiful, isolating, and unsettling.

Sarah Sudhoff's large-scale color photographs from the series At The Hour Of Our Death capture swatches of bedding, carpet, and upholstery soiled and stained by the passing of human life. Through close up photographs of these traumas, Sudhoff presents haunting, alluring, and abstract reflections of mortality that would otherwise go unseen.

In the series Vanitas, Justine Reyes also examines mortality while additionally exploring identity and nostalgia within still life images that pair her grandmother's belongings with her own. In her words, “The decomposition of the natural (rotting fruit and wilting flowers) and the break down of the man-made objects, reference the physical body, life's impermanence and the inevitability of death." All images were shot with a 4x5 and 8x10 view camera and draw inspiration from Dutch Vanitas paintings.

Caitlin Teal Price photographs women transfixed in ordinary, yet daunting urban landscapes. By staging these moments, Price allows the viewer to create their own narrative about circumstance, mortality, uncertainty, and the identity of these women. The resulting images create both tension and ambiguity about what the future holds for these women.

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