In 1980, photographer Sarah Charlesworth exhibited a new body of work called Stills, a collection of photographs collected from news wire services and the New York Public Library that showed nearly life-size images of people jumping or falling from great heights. The series was originally limited to seven photographs for a variety of reasons—the cost of printing, the size of the exhibition space—but Charlesworth amassed a much larger collection of these archival images and in 2012, expanded the series to 14 photographs. This exhibition marks the first time all 14 photographs will be shown together.
These images bring up a range of questions: Are the subjects jumping from something? To something? Are they falling? Did they have suicidal intentions? Who are they? What happened to them? We don’t know all of the answers to these questions, but we do know that the outcome is not always as dire as it appears to be.
For example, the image above shows a 15 year old named Patricia Cawlings who jumped (for unknown reasons) from the top of a Zen mission building in Los Angeles. She fell about 20 feet and somewhat remarkably only suffered minor injuries. But because of how Charlesworth has cropped and scaled the source photographs, it’s impossible to tell this by looking at her image. In the words of exhibition curator Matthew Witkovsky, this “absence of closure can seem unendurable” for the viewer.
We invite you to see this exhibition in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing through January 4.