At the Hour of Our Death by Mark and Angela Walley
by Daniel Haim
Filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley follow photographer Sarah Sudhoff as she works on her series titled At the Hour of Our Death. In the series Sudhoff creates large-scale color photographs of stained fabrics from trauma scenes and discusses the invisibility of death in our culture. Learn more about the filmmakers at walleyfilms.com. Learn more about the artist at sarahsudhoff.com.
Death, like birth, is part of a process. However, the processes of death –- the events leading up to the end of life, the moment of one’s last breath, and the aftermath of death — are often shielded from view.
Today in Western society most families leave to a complete stranger the responsibility of preparing a loved one’s body for its final resting place. Traditional mourning practices, which allowed for the creation of Victorian hair jewelry or other memento mori items, have fallen out of fashion. Now the stain of death is quickly removed, and the scene where a death occurs is cleaned and normalized. As Phillipe Aries writes, “Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects its continuity”. The modern means of dealing with death promises to shield mourners from the most graphic aspects of death, yet the emotional and psychological impact of such loss lingers long after any physical evidence of this process has been erased.
At the age of seventeen I lost a friend to suicide. While visiting his home the day after the tragic news I witnessed a clean up crew steam cleaning the carpet in his bedroom. All physical traces of the past 24 hours had vanished.
At the Hour of Our Death takes as its starting point Aries’s observation that “death’s invisibility enhances its terror”. These large-scale color photographs capture and fully illuminate swatches of bedding, carpet and upholstery marked with the signs of the passing of human life. The fabrics which are first removed by a trauma scene clean up crew, are relocated to a warehouse before being incinerated. It is in the warehouse that I photograph these fragments stained with bodily fluids. I tack each swatch to the wall and use the crew’s floodlights to illuminate the scene. The images are my attempt to slow the moments before and after death to a single frame, to allow what is generally invisible to become visible, and to engage with a process from which we have become disconnected.