New York

Bertien van Manen

Yancey Richardson Gallery

In On Photography (1977), Susan Sontag characterizes photographs as melancholy objects that “state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction.” Implying Sigmund Freud’s idea of melancholia as unresolved mourning, photography here enacts an analogous drive toward death. But in partaking of nostalgia, even if peremptorily, the fascination with death that photographs exercise is, as Sontag cautions, “also an invitation to sentimentality.” No one knew this better than Roland Barthes, who found the premonitory suggestion of an open wound in every indexical mechanical trace. His own Camera Lucida (1980) is a meditation on absence, compounded by his decision to withhold publication of the very photograph at the core of his musings (his deceased mother as a child in a winter garden).

Sentimentality might be too cloying a word to use in reference to Bertien van

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