Sarah Sudhoff’s Photographs Move Off the Wall

by Donna Tennant May 15, 2024

Last summer, photographer Sarah Sudhoff spent a month in the small Italian town of Galatina. She had been awarded the Domas Artist Residency, for which the recipient is given a house to live in for a month and, as she came to learn, not much else. 

“I just wandered around the town not knowing anyone and not speaking the language,” Sudhoff said in a talk at Andrew Durham Gallery, where her work is installed. “I was in a house, and that was all I had. What do you do when you travel halfway across the world and only have access to the sun, the water, the town, and yourself?”

The results of that month comprise The Past is Ever Present, some 18 pieces for which Sudhoff used lace from Galatina and cyanotype-prepared fabric to create photographic works of art, as well as a performance and two videos. The word cyanotype derives from the Greek words for “dark blue” and “impression.” It is a printing formulation on various surfaces sensitive to ultraviolet and blue light that renders a blue-toned result. 

Sudhoff had packed a minimum of garments, leaving room in her suitcase for pre-dyed cyanotype cloth in light-sealed packages. As she absorbed the ambiance of Galatina, what struck her initially was the beautiful lace that hung in all the windows. Subsequently, she purchased several pieces of lace to incorporate into her innovative printing process.

The rooftop of an Italian house on a sunny day.

Sarah Sudhoff, “The Past is Ever Present” 2024, performance

The show’s centerpiece is an eight-minute video documenting Sudhoff’s use of her body, the lace, and the sun to create intriguing patterns on the blue cloth. Working on the roof terrace of her house, she laid on a piece of lace, spread a cyanotype cloth over her body, and yet another piece of lace over that. Sudhoff stopped the processing by washing the fabric in a blue tub and hanging it to dry on the roof’s clothesline. In the gallery, three of these actual printed pieces are suspended adjacent to the video. Visible on the dark blue fabrics are subtle outlines of Sudhoff’s body and patterns created by the various laces. 

Two photographs hang on the wall of a gallery, while three cyanotype textiles hang from the ceiling.

Sarah Sudhoff, “The Past is Ever Present,” 2024, cyanotypes on linen

Sudhoff says of her process, “In processing the cyanotypes, I would count meditatively and silently for eight minutes, allowing each piece to develop in the sun, thus creating a unique record of time, place, and my silhouette. A map, revealing my journey and yet obscuring some of the details, was waiting for me to uncover them.”

A nude woman stands behind a lace textile hung outside on the roof an Italian house on a bright day.

Sarah Sudhoff, “Lace Study, No. 4,” 2024, archival print on paper

The show also includes four photographs of Sudhoff’s nude body interacting with pieces of lace hanging on the terrace. These are essentially light studies in which the sun shining through the lace creates shadow patterns on the artist’s body, the white-washed wall behind her, and the stone-tiled floor. In another installation, six photographs of the lace undulating in the breeze are printed on feather voile and suspended in two rows. The delicate fabric moves in response to air currents in the gallery, much like the lace in the photographs. 

Another series of photographs on view, Via Cavour, depicts the wall of La Basilica di Santa Caterina D’Alessandria, a 14th-century basilica near Sudhoff’s house. Arranged along the gallery’s hallway, more than a dozen photographs of the roughly textured surface recreate Sudhoff’s experience of walking past it every day. “It was my constant and served as my compass to find my way home,” she said. “The old walled city and the slower pace of Galatina served as the inspiration for The Past is Ever Present.”

A long, unframed photograph of an Italian wall along the via Cavour hangs on the wall of a gallery.

Sarah Sudhoff, “Via Cavour, No. 2-11,” 2024, archival print on paper

The basilica, with its layers of history, encouraged her to work with layers of fabric. “I was inspired by the basilica’s gorgeous frescoes, its blue ceiling, and these unrepaired areas where the frescos had broken off, revealing the drawings underneath,” Sudhoff said. “I became interested in the layers of history and the vulnerability of the materials, the space, and thinking about my own vulnerability.” 

The basilica also prompted Sudhoff to investigate patriarchy, eroticism, saints, and the mysteries of religion. Although her body under the fabric and lace did not have any overt religious intent, it did resemble a shroud. She was influenced by the integration of religion and culture in Galatina, where the town celebrated numerous religious holidays while she was there. Sudhoff was struck by how everything came to a standstill during these observances. 

Translucent Prints hang from clothespins on the wall of a gallery.5. Sarah Sudhoff, “Embodied Presence,” 2024, photographic prints on feather voile

Sarah Sudhoff, “Embodied Presence” (detail) 2024, photographic prints on feather voile

These textile-based pieces address themes that have concerned Sudhoff previously. As a single mother, she has explored the domestic roles and invisible labor of parenting, as well as matriarchal lineage. Her grandparents fled Cuba with their daughter, Sudhoff’s mother. In El Recuerdo, an exhibition and performance piece in 2021, Sudhoff paid tribute to her grandmother with a video showing her washing her grave, as well as a performance in which she swung from knotted ropes, referencing her grandmother’s boat journeys across the ocean.

During the pandemic, Sudhoff explored illness and mortality. In Cared For at the Blaffer Art Museum in 2022, her work questioned those who care for the health of women. Sudhoff researched the technologies that examine and penetrate female bodies in the medical field and used her own history of treatment for cancer as source material for the show. “I underwent surgery for cervical cancer the first week of graduate school,” she said. “That set the trajectory of my artistic career.” Sudhoff has been using her body since then to connect with her audience.

Sudhoff allows her personal experiences to dictate her subjects and materials. Her background as a photojournalist is a constant component of her work. She delves deeply into what it means to be a woman and mother in today’s political climate. Prior to the work discussed here, she photographed and performed in hospitals, morgues, medical museums, and her doctors’ offices. In a 2022 interview with Caroline Frost about Focusing Screen for Glasstire, she talked about the numerous examinations she has undergone.

“At times, I’ve felt objectified by specific, repetitive medical and gynecological exams and have become a little numb to the treatment of my body in these spaces,” Sudhoff said. “Performance is another form of communication, similar to writing or speaking. I speak in visuals. My gestures, body position, and images evoke emotions and provide clarity far beyond what I could ever say.”

Sudhoff’s performance and textile-based photographic work continues to explore topics she encounters as she dissects ongoing private and public expressions of self. Her interest in using materials to express her ideas and emotions while still being true to herself as a photographer has resulted in a growing separation from two-dimensional work. She has written that “textiles have the ability to create tangible expressions of ephemeral experiences and encapsulate a specific time and place” and “speak to the feminine or domestic realm.”

Six images printed on translucent fabric hang on clotheslines on the walls of a gallery.

Sarah Sudhoff, “Embodied Presence,” 2024, photographic prints on feather voile

The Past is Ever Present at Andrew Durham Gallery continues Sudhoff’s examination of her past and its impact on her present. The ritual of printing, washing, and hanging the cyanotype textiles has produced compelling documentation of her investigations during the residency. Her body of powerful performances, videos, and photographs reveals Sudhoff’s continuing experimentation with materials and processes, resulting in her work moving away from the aesthetic confines of the gallery wall.


Sarah Sudhoff: The Past is Ever Present is on view at Andrew Durham Gallery through May 18, 2024.

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