Kenyon College

Marcella Hackbardt


Marcella Hackbardt is a Professor of Studio Art at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. In 2014, she was the Director of the Kenyon Rome Program, traveling to Rome with Kenyon students for four months. She began this photography project during this time, and returned to Italy the following year in September and October 2015, during her Sabbatical Leave, with the intention of broadening and completing the series. This artist was awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2017.

This series of photographs of confessional booths documents cathedrals and churches throughout numerous cities in Italy. Using natural light and a straightforward framing, each photograph is a study in the aesthetics and formal design of this particular and rather curious piece of furniture. An interior inside an interior, their inherent intimacy is crafted in unendingly unique styles, often made by hand by artisans. In each image, details of the surrounding space suggest various levels of upkeep, disarray, architectural style, and fragments of artworks on display.

Hackbardt’s photography is consistently informed by objects and gestures infused with symbolism. The confessional is a site laden with meaning and intentionality, such as the hope or promise of forgiveness, and the quest for understanding through the sharing of one’s life stories.

While the faithful believe in redemptive promise, the skeptics see a ritualized space that may range from charming to almost encouraging. As such the confessionals are a contested site—but authentically designed to provide spaces for secrets, whispers, and centuries of retold sins. Depending on your religious practices and beliefs, these wooden booths may suggest hope or absurdity, but they also predict with certainty the never-ending business of human digression, soul searching, wishfulness, and imagination.

This project would not be possible without the support of Kenyon College, with additional funding from a Faculty Development Grant and the Office of the Provost, and the Ohio Arts Council.