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Essay by Carolina Alamilla in Exhibition Catalog

As people, we crave closeness that can only be emotionally,  physically, or socially satisfied. Our awareness of this desire becomes evident when deprived of it. How do we satiate this craving when there are parameters that prevent us? The answer is distance. Accepting the need for physical space, yet with it, still able to satisfy our human desires for interaction and community. This series of images is about recognizing this distance and our human needs for the familiar.


Ivette Spradlin’s From a Distance captures recent history and engages with COVID health mandates by using those restrictions as parameters for portraiture. Even with the notable space between people, the audience senses a genuine connection between photographer and subject. The distance doesn't compromise the personality found in the images. On the contrary. There is ease, familiarity, and some humor in what we see. The composition is as much about the people as the architecture framing them, which in turn acts as an homage to Pittsburgh neighborhoods, sidewalks, and staircases. It is easy to note that Ivette Spradlin values structure as subject.


That structural design highlights the relationship between couples and family members–a bond which soothes Spradlin—and reminds her of a friendship with a fellow artist who passed away at the beginning of this global health crisis. In From a Distance, the photographer returns to a practice that grounds and consoles her; taking portraits brings solace in this uncertain time. 


From a Distance began with a post in Spradlin’s neighborhood Facebook group. On the first day, her notice led to 4 different portraits. Subsequently, she visited friends in other communities and, with the help of social media, took close to 70 photographs. Each image told the same story; we all longed for connection while we collectively grieved.


The paradox of the pandemic is that the physical closeness we long for causes sickness and, sometimes, death. Being less than six feet apart can be unnerving, yet the desire for human touch is compelling. How does an artist reconcile this dichotomy while still presenting the warmth found in a family portrait? Spradlin locates herself at a sufficient distance to be respectful of the health mandates but close enough to engage with the subject. She uses distance as a distinctive feature within each portrait to commemorate this time in the world. The viewer benefits from Spradlin's unique perspective that conveys the emotional story of each person. Through the pose, potted plants, and pets, the photographer presents the essence of a home even with deliberate distance and face masks. 


Spradlin is no stranger to projects solely focused on Pittsburgh architecture and, in the past, has uncovered new beauty in the city’s buffed-out walls. In much the same way, when we were encouraged to stick to our backyards or front porches, we experienced our homes with new eyes because we had time to investigate our livable spaces. In From a Distance, Spradlin marries material discovery with emotional revelation by honoring both the building and the person within the frame. The details of each home, such as the house number, the worn-down bricks, and even the cars parked out front, are identifiable props for each family; they are as unique as each person living there, yet recognizable to any viewer. Each image carries the feeling of being comforted by the familial. It is the shared aspects of a home that resonate with viewers.


These images give new meaning to the phrase "still life," one dependent on the unique character of the home, the objects, and the people–whether a shy toddler or a boat parked outside. The conventionality of the objects and people offer a refreshing take on a family portrait. In From a Distance, we are reminded of our unremarkable yet remarkable home spaces, the ones that feel lived in, with the worn-down steps and screen doors slightly ajar. There is an ease to the images, one that feels inviting.


Spradlin is reminded of the loss of her friend when she looks at these photographs, but the photographer has birthed art from her mourning. Together, artist and audience understand collective grief is also a collective appreciation for life. For Spradlin, each image symbolizes healing through action, walking through a neighborhood, and familiarizing herself with a home. This art therapy allows the photographer to find comfort in the unknown and regain identity as an artist through portraiture.

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