Much of my work focuses on the space between things – empty rooms, blank walls, the background rather than the foreground. I am interested in the way place and self are constructed and inhabited – the relationship between subjectivity and the built environment, the unstable ways we ground ourselves. Using both image and text, my work grapples with power and vulnerability, certainty and unknowing.
For over eight years I photographed confessionals throughout the United States. I photographed in ornate city basilicas and airy rural chapels, modern churches with angled pews and cathedrals with leaking roofs and drafty stained glass windows. Despite the diversity of architecture there was a similarity to the confessionals. They were often worn down and less cared for than the churches themselves. Many were constructed with plywood, plastic and acoustic tile. I am interested in what this architecture reveals – the people and stories the confessionals have held and the way the spaces sometimes feel like the act of confessing. I photographed from the perspective of the penitent with a large format camera and available light, often using long exposures to reveal the dark spaces. I searched with my camera for what might be left behind.
Over the years, the photographs have evolved to reflect the state of the church – an institution reckoning with forgiveness and confession. I think of these pictures as suggesting both the desire and disillusionment of faith.
Went out upon Circumference—
Beyond the Dip of Bell—
from poem 378
I photographed Emily Dickinson’s bedroom for over a year, focusing on the corner where she wrote. All of Dickinson’s poetry was written in this corner and for much of her life she chose to remain secluded in her room, rarely leaving or seeing visitors. By photographing this potent corner, I am not trying to replicate what Dickinson might have seen, but rather trying to convey a space that invited a deep concentration. This small corner lead to expansive poetry.
“Circumference,” is a concept important to Dickinson; she used this word in her poetry and letters to describe the boundary between the visible and the invisible, the physical and the transcendent.
text by Allison Kemmerer:
Lingering on the traces left behind in empty, hushed spaces, S. Billie Mandle’s photographs encourage a slowing down, a close-looking that leads to meditation on the seen and the unseen. Her photographs of cast shadows, vacant pedestals, and scuffed walls in the Manship home and studio suggest both absence and presence, capturing the stillness of a space once ﬁlled––now haunted––by past generations.
Struck by the contrast between the masculine power that she saw as characterizing Paul Manship’s work and the feminine/queer vulnerability that informs her own, Mandle felt a kinship with the lesser-known work of the sculptor’s son, John. Her favorite spaces at Starﬁeld were the dim closets and remote attic, where John’s scratched, ﬂaking, and dusty paintings of the Cape Ann property—the house, the quarry, the nearby church and ocean were stored. Though so much effort had gone into their making, they now sat in the dark,unseen and overshadowed by the bright public nature of his father’s sculptures. In these underexposed photographs that bear the titles of their subjects, John’s stowed canvases are brought faintly to light. Revealing themselves only upon close observation, Mandle’s images of images provoke questions about what remains, what fades away, and what happens in the space between what is visible and what is imagined.
In 2017, an unprecedented 20,000 refuges and asylum seekers crossed the United States into Canada. These photographs were made in a home that helps people as they try to flee from the U.S. I did not photograph the people living in this home, rather I photographed the spaces where they wait – the backgrounds to their temporary lives, the traces of boredom and anxiety. These photographs show imprints left by people trapped in arbitrary laws and executive orders – these are traces of American polices. The title comes from a passage by Hannah Arendt in which she writes of the way refugees exist in an unsteady state, only partially seen by the world.
For this series I looked at parking garages in my hometown, San Mateo, California, digitally removing the parking lines and signs. My father is a civil engineer who designs parking garages. Garages are organized, purposeful environments; they assume that people obey rules and follow directions. By removing the parking lines, I undo my father’s work, creating purposeless places.
I made these images looking at the fence and foliage surrounding a cloistered convent. As I walked around the convent perimeter with my large format camera I focused on what blocked my vision. I am interested in studying the obstruction more than what is on the other side. This work hopefully evokes the difficulty of seeing -- the experience of grappling with a subject not easily revealed.
Throughout the project I was in conversation with the nuns and sent them images that I made. The title of this work comes from a passage by Simone Weil: “This world is the closed door. It is a barrier. And at the same time it is the way through. Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but it is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.”