Making poetry out of her intimate domestic rituals, Ruth Lauer Manenti casts her home in the Catskill Mountains as the main character in “Excerpts,” a slow-burning series on the charged atmosphere of our everyday spaces.

In 1958, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote The Poetics of Space—an illuminating text about how our houses shape our thoughts and dreams, and how our interior worlds can find the truest mirrors in our intimate spaces. It is a book full of corners and doorknobs, wardrobes and cellars, quiet dreaming and the spectres of memory that linger among these modest places. “Our house is our corner of the world,” wrote Bachelard, and “as has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word. If we look at it intimately, the humblest dwelling has beauty.” Later, he wrote, “memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home.”

In Ruth Lauer Manenti’s Excerpts, the artist’s own humble home is looked upon with a poetic intention similar to the one found in the pages of Bachelard. Through a small cluster of grainy, dreamlike black and white images, Lauer Manenti bears witness to the features and characteristics of her simple abode, approaching the task with intimacy and sentimental affection. “I live in a house that was built in 1940 in the Catskill Mountains, and when we bought it no-one else wanted it,” she says. “It doesn’t have a garage, a paved driveway, a basement, more than one bath or bedroom. It was also cluttered when we looked at it, but I immediately imagined it empty and knew it would be beautiful. The house has small windows that let in a gentle light.” Neither grand nor sought after, this unassuming slice of architecture, existing among a forested landscape, spoke to her and husband in some way, on a spiritual level.

Excerpts has to do with being at home, and letting myself photograph whatever I wanted to,” Lauer Manenti explains. “I guess, as an artist, I had always been trying to fulfil certain expectations of what I should be making—expectations that weren’t really mine but that I thought defined what would make a worthy picture or subject. With this project I let all of that go.” Thus began a series celebrating the details and rituals of everyday life at home. “I love sweeping and washing dishes, dustpans and simple silverware, so I began there.”


Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 12” x 9” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 8” x 6” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 8” x 6” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9” x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9” x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 8” x 10” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9” x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 12” x 9” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 12” x 9” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print 7” x 5” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9”x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 12” x 9” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 5” x 7” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 5” x 7” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 5” x 7” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9” x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 9” x 12” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 12” x 9” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 6” x 4” © Ruth Lauer Manenti
Excerpts. Archival pigment print. 10” x 8” © Ruth Lauer Manenti


Lauer Manenti grew up in an urban suburb on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her parents were Jewish WWII refugees from Vienna and Berlin respectively. “At the age of ten, my grandmother had put my mother on a train to Holland alone because it was apparently safer for family members to travel separately. She went with only a potato in her pocket and she nearly starved for the next five years. She spoke about those days often, especially if we would eat a lot on a special occassion or let food go bad in the fridge. My father, meanwhile, channelled his tragedy into hard work, which was all he ever did. When he was old he wanted to write a book, but he was too tired out from life to finish it. Fortunately, after he died, one of his students completed it.” From watching these two life experiences unfold, Lauer Manenti says quite simply, “I have a strong work ethic and I never waste food.” Somehow that outlook can be felt in her pictures, and in the plain, utilitarian and unpretentious beauty of her chosen subjects.

While Lauer Manenti’s father wrote, her mother did too, and she also painted, though she didn’t gain recognition in her lifetime. “When she died, there were many of her paintings, unpublished novels and plays in her apartment,” the artist recalls. “I tried to find places for her paintings when she was alive, but whenever we moved she would give work away or leave it behind on the walls. That caused her a lot of pain.” Since then, Lauer Manenti says, any strong sense of success she has in her own work feels as though it is somehow fulfilling her mother’s legacy too —“as if my work is linked to hers and that there is a kind of continuum unfolding. This feeling gives me determination.”

Something about the spectral, nostalgic quality of Lauer Manenti’s pictures in Excerpts speaks to this idea of people being present who are no longer around—to the idea of houses holding the spirit of people in subtle and ethereal ways. Not in a ghostly sense, but more in a way that appreciates how our memories can fill a room, change the air, or illuminate the dust in a shaft of sunlight, even for a fraction of a second. Here in Lauer Manenti’s house we see hazy pictures of stovetops and a wooden staircase, almost empty rooms and the figure of Lauer Manenti moving through the space, carrying out chores with care.

“During the time I made Excerpts—throughout all of 2021—I spent much more time at home than I ever had. While creating this work, I had the sense that all the people in my life, still here or not, live with me in my house. Excerpts of their lives were flashing in my mind,” she says. “I can’t quite explain it but from that experience my house and my heart felt like mirrors to each other. Cleaning my house was like cleaning my heart and in my heart are all the people I love; especially those who are gone, either far away, or passed. I didn’t try to get that across in the pictures; rather it just happened that I see them there when I look at them now.”

Shot on a large format camera, all of the images in Excerpts are the result of a slow and considered process that really makes us look at the artist’s home, contemplate each surface, what history it holds and what future it has. Lauer Manenti’s house feels like a living, breathing entity of its own in these pictures, as if it is a character in its own story, outside of the artist herself. “Life is going by quickly and I have lost many people close to me, and not, in ways unexpected, or if expected, naively I did not see coming. I know that I will not live in this house forever. The house will hopefully outlive me, but I wonder if a part of me will outlive it. I wish my dad could have visited, at least once. Somehow, with the passing of my parents, the need for a home I love feels even more important.”

Lauer Manenti named Excerpts for the routines, events and passages of time that make up something much larger; whole lives lived and still continuing. “I look at the past titles of my various projects, including Remnants, Shard, Stitches, Bandages, Quilt Square, Vignette, and I see a recurring theme in the connection of a detail to a larger universe; a way of using measurable, finite objects to convey that which is greater,” she says thoughtfully. The full project features fragments of personal writings (excerpts again) that Lauer Manenti worked on during the making of the project, and takes the form of a series of four small books she is hoping to have published, because nothing makes more sense for this work than tactile objects—things to be held and used and cherished. Things to bring comfort and contain memories, just as houses do.

As a final note on the recurring appearance of still lifes shot at the kitchen table in this project, Lauer Manenti adds, “I love to photograph and spend time by the ocean because I’m drawn to the horizon line. Since this work was done mostly at home though, having to do with internal space, the place where the table met the wall became my horizon. In the books, I include some sea pictures too, specifically to create a balance between the microcosm and the macrocosm.” It’s her way of orienting herself in the world she says, inside and outside colliding through her camera.


This work was selected as a winner of LensCulture’s Art Photography Awards 2022. See all of this year’s winners.