Sarah Sudhoff: Wired

Sex and death dominate the work of American photographer Sarah Sudhoff . Not the cliché, popcorn variety – oh no, for Sudhoff it is the forensic, latex glove variety. Sudhoff disarmingly confronts the viewer with examples of how sex and death are not only inextricably linked in the physical realm, but also the psychological. Projects such as Here After, which documents unclaimed cremation ashes, or At The Hour of Our Death, a series of abstract stains categorised by the gender, age and mode of death by which the human body left such markers. Nothing is taboo, as in her series Maternity Ward: “Motherhood was not something I truly expected to experience. In 2004 a portion of my cervix was removed to treat the first stages of cervical cancer as a result of HPV.” This jarring project could be seen as a sequal to the earlier series Repository documenting Sudhoff’s first-hand experience as a patient with that cancer.

Considering Wired (2012), it seems to make sense that Sudhoff has chosen the Kinsey Institute for scrutiny. The Institute was established in 1947 by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, to “advance sexual health and knowledge worldwide by promoting interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the fields of human sex, gender, and reproduction.” It has had a long and controversial existence, garnering attention both good and bad including a Hollywood biopic, nevertheless survives as a testament to scientific understanding of a very important part of the human condition. 

Sudhoff’s natural capacity for composing confident, attractive images from what are essentially uncomfortable subjects continues with Wired as it does in previous series mentioned. She seems at ease with the challenge of describing the rational world, the de-personalised world of medical science, in ways that the irrational mind of the viewer can identify. Sexual health relies on our grasp of our own psychological disposition in relation to death. Whether it is cervical cancer, sexually transmitted disease or a prediliction for certain behaviour, a clear and methodical investigation is necessary to enhance our evolution as a species. Our hopes and fears and success and failure all exist within this non-place. This non-place of hospital or home bed, where life and death seem but a shutter click apart.

For photography is inextricably linked to sex and death too; if life is the messy bit between sex (conception) and death, then photography in all it’s mechanical description, seems to give reason and pleasure to that messy bit. One could go so far as to determine sex and photography alike as simple mechanical acts, engaged through instinctive and learned behaviour that somehow offer solace and indeed pleasure in knowing that the ultimate prospect of death has been alleviated for just a moment. 

Kinsey’s obituary in the New York Times (Aug 22nd, 1956) included the line “in the long run it is probable that the values of his contribution to contemporary thought will lie much less in what he found out than in the method he used and his way of applying it.” Thus we can see the core value of Wired in it’s aesthetic and conceptual approach; the objects Sudhoff photographs are merely electronic measuring devices – sex is not the subject, rather the processes by which we as a species have constructed to better understand such a simple yet complex act.

See more of Sarah's work HERE.


— Barry W Hughes