Ambient Music

Text by Lydia Okrent

Mary makes a point to let me know that whatever we see in the image is correct. And it feels like someone whispering “yes” whenever my eyes land on something. I spend the rest of the day trying to pay attention to everything that is beside the point, the incidental and the elemental. There’s nothing there that isn’t already there and all I have to do is look.     

A hand pointing to a flower, a truck driving by, a friend saying “look.” It’s like that. Following the hand, turning your head. It almost doesn’t matter what you see, it’s the looking that sticks. The profundity is determined by the amount of time you spend paying attention to the arch of the now-demolished amphitheater or the wintering fern or the swan looking down the drain. I move from work to work, moving to the subtleties of Mary’s low-key emotional rhythm.

I’m down to be moved. I’m a dancer. Mary sees a lot of dance. Of their 7 cameras, not a single one can zoom in. Mary crouches, twists, reaches or otherwise uses their body to focus on the moment in the act. A corporeal zoom. The audience enters in the midst of an encounter. An embodiment captured.

They follow improvisational intuition, in their studio shifting photos around until innate harmony proposes the next possibility. Like in Authentic Movement, where one person, with eyes closed, finds an emotional or energetic impulse and moves from there while the other, with eyes open, watches without judgement.

And I think Mary’s sincerity is punk. All of the photos in Ambient Music were taken between 2019 and 2021. While everything is falling to pieces, Mary emboldens available tenderness by saying “hey, can I show you something?”

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“As soon as the poem ceases to be about anything, when it even stops saving things, stops being such a collector, it becomes an invite to the only refuge which is the impossible moment of being alive” - Eileen Myles Inferno

Mary Manning (b. 1972, Alton, Illinois) models a method of close looking in carefully arranged juxtapositions of 35mm analog prints. Taking familiar objects and scenes as their subject matter, Manning’s photos picture people, nature, the street, and everything in between. Conceptualizing “paying attention as a practice of being alive,” the artist insists on the importance and meaning of quiet moments and humdrum things. For Manning, photography is an exercise in recording and collecting—often prints are paired with saved mementos such as insect parts, a restaurant napkin, or a plastic bag. The works exemplify both photography and looking as acts of care, tenderly drawing our attention to modest but remarkable moments.