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Stamped “DISCARD” or “WITHDRAWN,” the books in Kerry Mansfield’s Expired have been exiled from the libraries where they were loved. There is something bittersweet about a library tome so well used that it has fallen to pieces, its tactile decay reflecting a collective act of reading. The new monograph from the San Francisco-based photographer features over 70 images of discarded library books, each posed against a black background for a post-withdrawal portrait.
“Each picture serves as an homage calling out palpable echoes etched into the pages by a margin-scrawled note, a yellowed coffee splatter or sticky peanut butter and jelly fingerprints,” writes Mansfield in a book essay. “It’s easy to feel a sense of abuse and loss, but they say much more. They show the evidence of everyone that has touched them, because they were well read, and often well-loved. They were not left on shelves, untouched.”
Mansfield frequently considers time in her photography. Aftermath responded to her diagnosis with breast cancer at the age of 31 with a series of self-portraits, while Threshold captures feathers dropping in front of her camera, a series created during a time of sleep deprivation. Expired also has a biographical connection for Mansfield, as she recalls how she spent “many lost afternoons hiding in the library nook” in elementary school. “The first rite of passage upon learning how to write one’s name was to inscribe it on a library checkout card promising the book’s safe journey and return,” she writes.
Expired includes its own checkout card inside the back cover — signed by the artist in an envelope stamped “EXPIRED.” Some of her photographs frame just these slips of paper chronicling readers with inked dates or names. One from The Giant Golden Book of Dogs, Cats, and Horses was check out by a kid named Kelli three times in a row between October and January (and then again in September and November). Yet as Mansfield notes, these cards are an “act of declaration that’s dissolving faster than we can see as cards are removed permanently and bar codes take their place.”
The dog-eared pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, a copy of Lad: A Dog that has a chunk missing from its cover (perhaps taken by canine teeth?), crayon scribbles on The Velveteen Rabbit, the broken spine of Treasure Island, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame braced by tape, all recall the shared experience of library literature. Mansfield’s photographs give these imperfections a quiet dignity.