32 Minutes with Hortense Mendel

In the olden days before digital photography, double exposures were either made with considerable effort and planning or, simply, by mistake. These three mash-ups of Hortense Mendel in her Bronx living room with landscapes of a New England boat basin were obviously done the easy way.

Fortunately, we can still see enough of what inspired her husband to snap a few pictures in the first place. The almost cinematic image sequence encompasses family history (the cast-iron gothic-revival mantel clock with hand-painted pastoral, a remnant of the sturdy middle-class background of Hortense’s German-born father) and popular culture (the “Lacy Lavender Supreme” African violets, a house plant whose availability and varieties had only really begun to take off in the previous ten years). It touches on spiritual awareness (the havdalah candle) and personal details (Ismar David’s own pocket watch). Hortense herself is reflected in the large mirror on a sea of patterned wallpaper, fussing over some unseen domestic activity. Maybe she was setting the table or packing for the couple’s regular summer vacation in Rockport, Massachusetts. The weather was warm enough to open the window. In any case, we are privy to a glimpse of their private lives, simultaneously immediate and very, very far away.

Posted in M