FOR TEN YEARS, I PHOTOGRAPHED Catholic confessionals throughout the United States. I photographed in ornate city basilicas and airy rural chapels, modern churches with angled pews and cathedrals with drafty stained-glass windows. Despite the diversity of places and architecture, there was a similarity to the confessionals. They were pragmatic spaces, often constructed with acoustic tile, and more neglected than the churches themselves. In these small, dark rooms, I found traces of people, communities, prayers, and dogmas.
Photographing from the perspective of the penitent, I used a large-format camera and available light, creating images that are more metaphorical than typological. As a queer woman raised Catholic, I have had a complex relationship to the church—making these photographs was part confession, part reconciliation.
S. Billie Mandle is an artist based in Los Angeles and western Massachusetts and an assistant professor at Hampshire College. A book of Reconciliation, with text by Kirstin Valdez Quade, will be published by Kehrer Verlag in spring 2020.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.