Monday, April 19, 2010

At the Hour of Our Death

Death, like birth, is part of a process. However, the processes of death–the events leading up to the end of life, the moment of one's last breath, and the aftermath of death-- are often shielded from view. Today in Western society most families leave to a complete stranger the responsibility of preparing a loved one’s body for its final resting place. Traditional mourning practices, which allowed for the creation of Victorian hair jewelry or other memento mori items, have fallen out of fashion. Now the stain of death is quickly removed, and the scene where a death occurs is cleaned and normalized. As Phillipe Aries writes, “Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects its continuity”. The modern means of dealing with death promises to shield mourners from the most graphic aspects of death, yet the emotional and psychological impact of such loss lingers long after any physical evidence of this process has been erased.

Suicide with Gun, Female, 60 years old

Seizure, Male, 25 years old

Suicide with Gun, Male, 40 years old

At the age of seventeen I lost a friend to suicide. While visiting his home the day after the tragic news I witnessed a clean up crew steam cleaning the carpet in his bedroom. All physical traces of the past 24 hours had vanished.

Illness, Female, 60 years old

Suicide with Gun, Male, 40 years old

Heart attack, Male, 50 years old (I)

At the Hour of Our Death takes as its starting point Aries's observation that “death's invisibility enhances its terror”. These large-scale color photographs capture and fully illuminate swatches of bedding, carpet and upholstery marked with the signs of the passing of human life. The fabrics which are first removed by a trauma scene clean up crew, are relocated to a warehouse before being incinerated. It is in the warehouse that I photograph these fragments stained with bodily fluids. I tack each swatch to the wall and use the crew’s floodlights to illuminate the scene. The images are my attempt to slow the moments before and after death to a single frame, to allow what is generally invisible to become visible, and to engage with a process from which we have become disconnected.

Heart attack, Male, 50 years old (II)

Heart attack, Male, 50 years old (III)

Overdose, Female, 45 years old

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review in the Houston Chronicle

Artist presents an unsanitized, yet beautiful, vision of death
By DOUGLAS BRITT Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

Anyone who saw photographer Sarah Sudhoff's Repository last year at Art League Houston — work that grew out of her 2004 surgery for cervical cancer — already knows she turns an unwavering gaze on the body in medical contexts. Tissue samples, blood-soaked gauze, medical instruments, the artist herself — all were served up for the examination of anyone who dared to look.

In her second Houston solo show, At the Hour of Our Death at De Santos Gallery, Sudhoff again draws inspiration from personal experience. At 17, she lost a friend to suicide and watched a crew steam-clean his bedroom carpet, removing the signs of what had transpired just hours before. For her new series of color photos — all works date from 2010 — she's trained her lens on what trauma-scene cleanup crews whisk away from the scenes where death occurs.

It sounds morbid. But Sudhoff's preoccupation isn't so much with death's gruesomeness as our conflicted relationship with what is, after all, a process we all go through.

“Today, in Western society, most families leave to a complete stranger the responsibility of preparing a loved one's body for its final resting place,” Sudhoff writes in one of the clearest artist statements I've read in recent memory. “Traditional mourning practices, which allowed for the creation of Victorian hair jewelry or other memento mori items, have fallen out of fashion. Now the stain of death is quickly removed, and the scene where a death occurs is cleaned and normalized. … The modern means of dealing with death promises to shield mourners from the most graphic aspects of death, yet the emotional and psychological impact of such loss lingers long after any physical evidence of this process has been erased.”

Sudhoff photographs trauma-scene bedding, carpet and upholstery swatches — all stained with body fluids from a recent death — in a warehouse where they are temporarily held before incineration. She tacks each swatch to the wall, where it is illuminated by the crew's floodlights, and tries “to slow the moments before and after death to a single frame,” she writes.

She titles each 40-by-30-inch print with the cause of death followed by the gender and age of the victim. Because the color is gorgeously saturated and the compositions are reminiscent of post-World War II abstract painting, you're immediately drawn to their formal beauty, only to be stopped in your tracks by the truth. You might think you've seen the rich blues and stained composition in a Helen Frankenthaler painting, but Frankenthaler never painted Heart Attack, Male, 50 years old (II). No, that's not a study after a canvas from Adolph Gottlieb's Burst series; it's Suicide with Gun, Male, 40 years old.

The photos' richly textured beauty gives way to repulsion, then back to beauty again. A similar tension operates between feelings of immersion and detachment. Confronting Sudhoff's evidence on her terms — “to allow what is generally invisible to become visible, and to engage with a process from which we have become disconnected” — is both awful and strangely consoling.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Work

At the Hour of Our Death, a work in progress, will open March 13, 2010 at De Santos Gallery. I'm very happy to have my second solo show in Houston and have the ability to exhibit new work. The project will be less than a year old by March but I hope to have a great start on this new series. The show coincides with Fotofest.

I also found out today that Cactus Bra in San Antonio is interested in showing my work. Most likely I will show new work from the Repository series along with a few videos. The show is scheduled for May 2010.

Suicide with Gun, Female, 60 years old (2010)
40 x 30 inches, Archival pigment print

Friday, September 11, 2009

Visual Overload

I remember. I was there standing on the Brooklyn promenade watching in horror. I awoke that morning to my windows rattling from the explosion as the first plane hit the tower. I stood watching the television screen as the second plane collided with the second tower and again heard my windows vibrate. I was working at Time Magazine during this period and thought of racing to work but soon realized the subways would be shut down. I grabbed my camera and two rolls of film and headed on foot from Carroll Gardens to Brooklyn Heights to do the only thing I could do, to be a witness.

I can still remember screaming and the sound of screams and cries all around me as myself and hundreds of others watched helpless from across the river as the first tower fell. Debris and smoke blew across the river and into Brooklyn forcing us all to evacuate the area. I went to the nearest hospital to wait for victims and to help in anyway I could. No one came. I hitched a ride in an ambulance with several reporters down to ground zero. We were kept a few streets back due to the smoke and damage caused to surrounding buildings. After spending who knows how long pacing the streets of Tribeca and feeling again helpless I started on foot back home–up the island to the Brooklyn Bridge and over in to Carroll Gardens. I have no idea how long it took to get home nor when I was finally able to get through to my family and tell them I was alright.

I have so many stories from the days that followed and the photographs I encountered while at the magazine. Most never released to the public. However, I felt compelled to look, to understand, to feel and to let these photographs imprint themselves on me.

I do not need to see footage of burning towers to remind me what day it is. Can we not show something more uplifting? Although I left New York two years ago, the emotions of that day are very much on the surface.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Daniel Cooney Artist Auction

Daniel Cooney's "Late Summer Emerging Artist Auction" is going on now through September 2nd. Works are priced at $200.00. Please help support the gallery and all the emerging artists in the auction. Happy bidding.

Artists include:
Samantha Cohn, June Glasson, Mikael Kennedy, Toni Pepe, Rafael Soldi, Sarah Sudhoff, Grant Willing among others.

Image credit:
Sarah Sudhoff
Cowboys and Indians (2008)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Q&A with photographers Tribble & Mancenido

I just finished a new Q&A with collaborative photographic team Tribble & Mancenido who also happen to be husband and wife. I had the pleasure of seeing their work first hand and meeting them at the recent Houston Center for Photography exhibition.

I can truly appreciate the sacrifice and dedication they put forth to bring this series to life.

Please find the full interview on the Austin Center for Photography blog.

Image credit:
Moto Mart, Perryville, MO 2008

Monday, June 22, 2009

Student Work

This summer I am teaching two 10 week courses at the Houston Community College as well as a number of courses at the Houston Center for Photography. Needless to say I am in the thick of it and hoping to inspire my students even though the classes are long–nearly five hours at a time and its hot as hell. On top of it my HCC classes have to bring in their own water to process their black and white film since the tap water is coming in at almost 100 degrees.

I have a few standard assignments I have students complete at the start of each new session. I introduced the LIGHT assignment to my teen intro digital photography class at HCP and have attached two of my favorite images created by one student. This was a four session course and this was their second assignment. The images are Uta Barth inspired, as if you couldn't tell.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who Knew

I have my sorority series syndicated through Redux Pictures in New York. Out of the blue I'll receive a check in the mail for an image or two running but I'm not always sure where it ran(I don't google myself enough) or when. Just today I got an email from someone who saw one of my images in Forbes magazine. Sure enough it ran in April 2009. I always have mixed feelings whether to allow my personal work to be used out of context but for editorial purposes. I can say the money I have made from it being published a number of times in the last few years has paid for the project–film, two plane tickets, processing and scanning. The first major running of the work was in iO Donna an Italian magazine which ran 10 or so images. Of course since its syndicated I only make half of what Redux is paid for the images.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Highs and Lows

Its been nearly a month since I've posted anything. In that time I had a quick trip to New York to visit friends and I was lucky enough to see the American debut of Sophie Calle's Take Care of Yourself show at Paula Cooper Gallery.

Displaying a unique approach to what might otherwise inflict emotional trauma, artist Sophie Calle rose to challenge an ex's breakup email suggestion to "take care of yourself" by asking 107 professional women to analyze and interpret the email's content. Calle's voyeuristic sleuthing and disclosure of intimate details — delving into explorations of public-versus-private life — has made her one of France's most renowned conceptual artists. Take Care of Yourself exhibits these personal responses to a painful message (ranging from live performance to academic discourse), which leaves viewers both uncomfortable and reflectively empathetic.
– Renata Christen

Ironically while at the exhibition I got the call I had been waiting for from the University of Akron that I had not been offered the full time tenure track position. Honestly it was quite the let down. Ironically though later that night my father called after finding a medical photographer position open in Texas which I immediately applied for. Still waiting to hear if I'll get an interview there or not.

Last week I moved to Houston for the summer to teach two courses at Houston Community College and a number of short courses at the Houston Center for Photography. Classes began today and I'm excited about teaching for the next two months.

In the realm of my own work I found out I did not win an award at the NY Photo festival, get in to the HCP annual member show or receive the Women in Photography grant however the winner will be announced this Wednesday. Sometimes you just don't get any slack.

But to end on a positive note I had the pleasure of meeting Alec Soth for the first time last week. The non-profit I helped start, The Austin Center for Photography had its second 'Icons of Photography' lecture on Thursday evening at the Blanton Auditorium. I was the chief organizer for this event and was able to spend a good deal of time with Alec and his wife. I'm happy to report, Rachel bought boots and we took her and Alec to the Broken Spoke for a night of country dancing. And yes they both hit the dance floor. No, no photos to prove it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New York Photo Awards Nominee

I know its been a while since I've posted. I've been swamped with end of the semester grading, applying for jobs and interviewing.

I just found out today I was selected as a nominee for this years New York Photo Festival Photo Awards. I wish I could attend the festival which begins tomorrow. I will be in New York but not for another two weeks. I wanted to submit work for all the categories but at the time I only had $30. So I entered a self-portrait I did last year, Not Like My Mother (2008).

Winners are announced on Friday at the gala in New York. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New feature on ACP Blog

For those of you who don't know I'm a founding board of trustees for the Austin Center for Photography and also the ACP blog editor. I'm very excited to announce a new feature to our blog. I recently interviewed the collaborative team of Benjamin Drummond and Sara Steele and their on going project, Facing Climate Change.

To see the entire interview please check out the ACP blog.

I'm always looking for new features as well as blog contributors from experts in the field of photography including: professors, curators, artists, editorial and commercial photographers etc. Please contact me at regarding writing for the blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I am pleased to announce my first international exhibition, Rx, opens this Saturday, April 18th at IPS (In Plain Site) Gallerie in Montreal.

I wish I could afford to attend since its a three person show and meet the other two artists but that's the life of an artist. Constant sacrifice and disappointment.

I'm hoping to attract an international audience for my work. It always seems that European artists are much more in line with my aesthetic than most of my American peers.

A little about the show:

IPS is pleased to present Rx, featuring works by Chantal Gervais, Cindy Stelmackowich and Sarah Sudhoff.

April 18 – May 23, 2009
Vernissage -Saturday, April 18 3 p.m.
Once the body has been deemed "ill", what was personal necessarily becomes public, beginning with the fact of the illness itself, which must be shared with medical professionals and others, and continuing with the invasive scrutiny of medical testing and the possible indignities of intervention.

The three artists whose photographs are featured in Rx work to control the representation of the self within the medical context, a context which has so often functioned to strip patients, particularly women, of agency. In constructing collages from MRI scans of her own body, including a re-gendered, technologically contemporary Vitruvian, Chantal Gervais willingly offers up what is ordinarily personal, interior and unseen, to the gaze of the viewer. The digital collages of Cindy Stelmackowich bring together lithographs that illustrated 19th-century anatomical atlases and illustrations of shipwrecks and other disasters from journals of the same era. In these re-colourized images, the internal torment the study of medicine may repress is returned to the patient, as cavities opened up for examination are made to reveal the panic and struggle within. Sarah Sudhoff began to produce self-portraits, films and performances in hospitals, morgues, medical museums and offices after undergoing surgery for cervical cancer in 2004. Her work focuses on the emotional as well as physical impact of illness, and includes images of the vulnerable body faced with the intractability of medical machinery, and of the residue of treatment on the flesh, and the sad beauty of medical waste.

Chantal Gervais is the recipient of the 2002 Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography. She received an M.A. in Art and Media Practice from the University of Westminister in London, U.K., and teaches photography and media at the University of Ottawa.

Cindy Stelmackowich’s work has been shown in solo and group exhibits in both Canada and the U.S. She teaches art history at Carleton University, and her writings have appeared in numerous journals and publications.

Sarah Sudhoff, a Texas-based photographer who has exhibited internationally, is a founding board member for the Austin Center for Photography in Austin, Texas and was recently included in Hysteria: Past Yet Present at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Capsule Art Review

A recent review in the Houston Press by Troy Schulze.

"Sarah Sudhoff — Repository" San Antonio-based photographer Sarah Sudhoff's first solo show scores for its bravery in depicting something as emotionally loaded as cancer treatment with bold austerity and subtle humor. The artist underwent surgery for cervical cancer in 2004, survived it and began examining medical environments through photography and video. Included are nicely saturated color photos of sample cups, bloody gauze, uninhabited examining rooms and tissue samples, along with large-scale, elegantly composed self-portraits in varying examination poses. One, Exam 2, in which Sudhoff sits upright on an exam table dressed in a plaid smock and bright green stockings, her feet resting in the stirrups, references the portrait series for Matthew Barney's overtly masculine Cremaster films, but from a feminine perspective. Sudhoff extracts herself from the photo's accompanying video — in which she passes time going through drawers and medical tools (she eventually administers her own pap smear and reads The New Yorker) — to pose for a picture. In another video, she bathes in a stainless steel basin. The clinical and stark nature of the work sustains an earthbound, taut tension that suggests stifled emotion ready to explode. Sudhoff is keeping it together while ugly, bloody reality lurks in the hospital's various repositories. Through April 17. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Real Body Art

Just received this article this morning from a former professor of mine. I happen to have my own 'body art' project in progress. Luckily mine does not involve waiting for people to die like this Russian artist. And you thought I was weird......


Andrei Molodkin has made moulds of praying hands and a brain which eventually will be filled with the boiled down crude oil from the body of the BBC reporter Sasha Gankin. It gives a grim new meaning to the term body art. A leading contemporary Russian artist says he has perfected a technique to boil human corpses into crude oil from which he will create permanent
sculptures, and he has already signed up willing volunteers. Andrei Molodkin, who will represent Russia at this year's Venice Biennale, claims that after spending three to six months in a high-pressure machine, a corpse becomes oil that can be used to
power cars or be moulded into a permanent memorial statue to sit on the mantelpiece. His work is the ultimate extension of a growing trend for artists to use human bodies as art materials. The sculptor Marc Quinn made a study of his head from his frozen blood; Gilbert and George regularly use bodily fluids in their art, and Günther von Hagens's Body Worlds exhibition
of preserved corpses is on at London's O2. Paris-based Molodkin, 43, has already signed up the BBC reporter Sasha Gankin, who wants to be rendered into a sculpture of a brain, as well as a French porn star, Chloé des Lysses, who wants to be turned into a model of praying hands. Conscious he may have to wait several decades before putting these plans into action, Molodkin
has also signed up some HIV sufferers in New York, whom he expects to die "in one or two years"._IndependentUK

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I live in the wrong country

A BIZARRE hospital-themed restaurant in Latvia is serving food resembling body parts with surgical utensils.

Decked out in a sterile, modern medical environment and boasting scantily clad nurses, the Hospitalis in Riga serves hearty Latvian dishes and a macabre cake topped with realistic-looking body parts such as fingers, noses and tongues.

Owned by a group of local doctors, Hospitalis also has a trendy cocktail bar where bartenders in white lab coats mix drinks into beakers and test tubes.

Guests are treated to disturbing dinner entertainment including morbid tunes on violins, while deranged patients are escorted through the restaurant in straightjackets and wheelchairs.

My they would like to purchase some of my photographs???