I am late to Billie Mandle’s talk on photography. I hate being late and I’m dreading the few seconds when I open the door and it feels like everyone’s eyes are on me. There are no open seats in the cramped classroom, filled with students staring at their illuminated laptops, so I find an open spot on the floor. I’m wearing a skirt so any way I contort my body feels awkward.
Shudders cover the windows and the lighting is dim. Attention is focused on the screen in front of the classroom, where a photographic image is being projected. In it, I see a dark wooden room with a single window to the left covered by a white curtain—lace.
Using a camera with a long-exposure time, Billie explains that she photographed the inside of confessionals for 10 minutes. She says she aimed to capture the essence of private, of a place where one is forced to confront truth.
Then the image on the screen changes. This room is much smaller. It is also dark and wooden and has a bench attached to the wall. I can see handprints in the dust that have collected on the bench.
I thought all confessionals were simple wooden boxes, but Billie’s photographs show something different. There are some with bright colors, some dirty, some with a little light, some rustic, some concrete, some untouched. I have never been in a confessional before—not because I don’t believe in the act, but because I’m not Catholic.
Her work is called “Reconciliation.” I like that.
Maybe If I Just Say It in One Go…
OnedayaftercomingbackfromrecessIwaswaitingontheyellowlinedesignatedforthirdgraderswhen myyoungerbrothercameuptometogivemeahugandIpushedhimawaybecauseIthoughtitwasn'tcool tohugyouryoungerbrotherorsomethinglikethatandhewalkedawaytohisdesignatedyellowlineand apparentlyitreallyhurthisfeelingsbecausehecriedaboutittomymomwhenwegothomeandIdidn'teven apologizeorsayanythingbecauseIdidn'tfeellikeIhaddoneanythingwrongandnowlookingbackIknow IdidsomethingwrongbutwasthewrongestthingIhaddonepushinghimawayoristhatI'veneversaidI'm sorryandI'mtooafraidtosoI'mhidinginthismess?
Priest: How may I help you, my daughter?
Me: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was never.
Priest: What is it you would like to confess?
I look for the bright colors, the rustic qualities, the newness, the darkness, but all I see are my hands. I feel the dust. I press down—firmly, to make a handprint. I guess people’s secrets aren’t the only dirt left behind.
Me: I killed my brother.
Me: I hurt my brother.
Me: I betrayed my brother.
Me: I pushed my brother away.
Priest: You pushed your brother away?
Me: Yes. I physically pushed him away when I was in third grade and he was in the first grade. He wanted to give me a hug and I pushed him away. I hurt his feelings.
Priest: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”
Me: 1 John 3:15. I know that verse by heart.
I am sitting on the floor of a crowded classroom in Sackler 318 because I am late. Billie Mandle has just explained her work, “Reconciliation,” where she went around the world and photographed the insides of confessionals. She shifts gears to talk about her most recent project: photographing the insides of parking garages.
Her photographs make the grime and dirt stains look abstract and painterly. And the way she captured the light, sometimes appearing to dance on the wall, make these lots seem more sacred, more spiritual than the confessionals I was seeing moments ago. I recognize the concrete walls and the crusted dirt that are the parking garage aesthetic. But I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes them seem so beautiful. Still, those are not places where I would want to leave handprints.
I took off the parking lines, she says. Billie explains that her dad paints the yellow lines in parking garages and, as a way of taking ownership of the photograph, she digitally erased the yellow lines.
I was in the third grade; my brother was in the first. We were both coming in from playing on the school’s primary colored playground set. I was standing in the yellow parking line designated specifically for third graders. My brother came up to me, as he always had done since we had switched to this new school, and tried to give me a hug. I had always reciprocated, but this time…
I can’t even remember the look on his face. Once I had peeled his arms off me, I turned away and focused on staying on my yellow line because soon Ms. Scheonhals would be here and take us inside. When we got home everything seemed fine. I hadn’t thought about it at all. But then he took my mom to another room and started crying, recounting the event.
I began defending myself immediately. I told him that he shouldn’t have wanted to hug me in the first place. That it was weird to hug him. That it was weird to publicly show affection to family members. That it was weird that he was crying.
Fast forward ten years. My mom and are sitting at our kitchen table, and I’m frustrated as ever with my brother.
“Why doesn’t he ever talk to me? Why is our relationship so sour?”
“Te acuerdas de ese día cuando no lo querías abrazar?”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago. You can’t blame me for all of this.
“No te sientes culpable, pero…como era nene chiquito, te admiraba mucho."
“I know I hurt him. But what can I do now?”
(Sigh) I’m sorry. I can go to Dickson Bros. and buy some black paint to spill over the yellow lines. Kind of like Billie did. You know where the shop is: We walked by it when you visited me for spring break. And you quickly hugged me goodbye before you left in the taxi. And that was fine.Are we reconciled?
But the Reality of the Matter Is…
The intimacy would be too bizarre. I don’t know how to hug him. It’s weird. Writing this is weird. If he reads this and things change, well, that will be weird too. If he tries and hugs me, like for real, that would be weird. But I don’t want it to be weird. I want it to just be.
— Nathalie R. Miraval ’14, a staff writer for The Crimson, is an Art History concentrator in Kirkland House. She has yet to confess.