Set in the grimly green countryside of Pennsylvania, The Mark of Abel is a collection of group portraits taken by Lydia Panas of her friends and family.
At first glance, Panas' portraits exude a very particular kind of intensity, but it's one that first resonates as an ode to the power of stern facial expressions. What becomes interesting upon closer inspection is the escaping humanity. The photographer captured tenuous details that reveal intricate connections and emotions with a delicacy almost akin to respect. This is where her work is sublime. The fragilities that transpire, the lost looks, and the unaffected demeanors.
Panas cleverly exposes the relationships governing her subjects, as sometimes the simple position of a hand upon a shoulder reveals all the tenderness and comfort that the eyes are trying to hide. She is showing us all that we can't control of ourselves: the protective crossed arms, the seductive cock of a hip, the proud hitch of a chin.
Flipping through The Mark of Abel for the first time is a little bit like a first date. It will take longer, more effort, a second chance, to dig and scratch at the surface to discern what the person truly holds. It implies a commitment to decipher - and surrender to - their masks, and the task becomes engrossing, as almost each photograph seems to carry a plethora of secret emotions and subplots begging to be interpreted. If you look long enough in the eyes of her subjects, the staring down contest fades away and you start to discern what makes each person unique, you imagine the cracks in the wall of their severity, and you end up moved to the core by their frailty.
Like a skilled cabaret dancer, Panas' book teases our curiosity by not flaunting but subtly suggesting, captivating the reader into looking further at each page turn. The lovely, insightful and open-hearted foreword by Maile Meloy only deepens the sense of wonder.
Written by Marie-Charlotte Pezé.
For more information and pre-orders click here.