Fine Art Photography Daily

Photolucida: Kerry Mansfield: Expired

Today’s post is part of several weeks dedicated to work seen at Photolucida
Kerry Mansfield seems to have an endless creative well to draw from as her projects range from artistic interpretations to powerful personal documentary work.  The new project that she brought to Photolucida takes her in a another direction — looking back at the changing landscape of children’s library books.  The series, Expired, celebrates the tangible object, allowing us to experience the wear and tear, the passage of time, and the beauty that these publications hold.

Born in New Jersey, Kerry received degree in photography from UC Berkeley and continued to CCA (California College of the Arts) to refine her sensibilities for space and volume by studying architecture. The combination of both fields led her back to photography where she has since explored the relationship between space, boundaries and the concept of “home”.  Kerry has exhibited throughout the United States, Europe, and South America garnering several national and international awards including the Lens Culture Single Image Award, First Place International Photography Award in the Fine Art Professional Self-Portrait Category, the Worldwide Photography Gala First Place Storyteller Award and a spot on the Shortlist in the Professional Documentary Portrait category for the 2012 World Photography Organization (WPO) Awards. 
In elementary school I spent many lost afternoons hiding in the library nook reading while settled deeply into a green vinyl beanbag chair surrounded by the scent of musty paper. The first rite of passage upon learning how to write one’s name was to inscribe it on a library check-out card promising the book’s safe journey and return. I remember reading the list of names that had come before me and cradling the feeling that I was a part of this book’s history and it’s shared, communal experience exposed by curly-Q handwritten names and room assignments revealing repeat customers devouring the book beyond it’s deadline. An act of declaration that’s dissolving faster than we can see as cards are removed permanently and bar codes take their place.

The Japanese term “wabi-sabi” is described as the art of finding beauty in imperfection and of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. But unlike the American culture focused on spectacle, wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s found in time-worn faces of expired library books that have traveled through many hands, and across county lines until they have reached their final resting place at ex-library warehouses where safe harbors are found in Costco-sized rows of “discards” and “withdrawns” rising within inches of the ceiling. 

The volumes documented in “Expired” serve as specimens akin to post-mortem photography in the Victorian Era when family members only received the honor of documentation upon their demise. Each picture serves as an homage calling out palpable echoes etched into the pages by a margin-scrawled note, a yellowed coffee splatter or sticky peanut butter and jelly fingerprints. It’s easy to feel a sense of abuse and loss, but they say much more. They show the evidence of everyone that has touched them, because they were well read, and often well loved. They were not left on shelves, untouched. Now they have a new life, as portraits of the unique shared experience found only in a library book. We must take time to celebrate the swiftly disappearing, unique communal experience offered by library books as it’s quickly replaced by downloads, finger screen-swipes and plastic newness. If you listen carefully you can hear the aching poetry calling from tattered pages that carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace.

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