In Mickey Smith’s 2012 Denudation series of photographs, subjects emerge shyly from darkness. The camera focuses on the borders of empty space, where a few small things have been left behind: a book cover, a stepstool, plastic bags. Denudation is the stripping or erosive removal of clothing, vegetation, or soil. The settings in Denudation have been recently vacated, but the ghost of the inhabitant can never be fully erased; instead, Smith delves into the history of place, investigating the systematic way that the accessories of living continually build up and are purged within four walls. Smith’s earlier series, Volume (2011) and Collocations (2009), worked with books, repeating or highlighting graphic titles and boldly-colored spines. In Denudation, her interest in the historical aura of artifacts is reexamined in a starker setting, with a melancholy respect for the movement of past to present.
Denudation documents abandoned objects within libraries. The work references in-situ laboratory-style photography – the image as evidentiary document, the print as cold case. The stark, dark photographs test the limits of objectivity and the false consolation of casualness even as, in the tradition of documentary and crime-scene photography, the images aspire to conscientious neutrality.