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Lorry Salcedo

Photographs of Peruvian Mummies at the Gomez Gallery through June 21

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 6/4/2003

Lorry Salcedo

Gomez Gallery through June 21

Whether you call this curiosity morbid or not, that's what will prompt you to pull up for a close examination of photographer Lorry Salcedo's long-sitting subjects: the mummified bodies of pre-Columbian people who once lived in the Andes Mountains of Salcedo's native Peru

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Although the photographer found some of these shriveled yet always recognizably human bodies housed in museum collections, he was as likely to find them quietly residing in a provincial town hall or family home

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"It's Indian tradition to preserve family members, and to keep them in houses is something normal," explains Salcedo, who now lives in College Park. He also considers this series to be a normal project within his overall career. "It's a process in my case," he says. "I started photographing old people, and then people with disabilities and then the following step was to photograph the dead.

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In documenting either the Peruvian mummies showcased in his Gomez Gallery exhibit or the still-living folks in earlier projects, Salcedo follows the same format in his black-and-white photos: An isolated, sharply lit subject is the near-theatrical center of attention, the pitch-black background offering nothing else to catch your eye

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Even without the nudging titles Salcedo has given these portraits, you'd doubtless find yourself coming up with equivalent names. In "Relaxed Man" (pictured), for instance, the subject's body has forever hardened into the curled-up burial position often found in this series. His tilted head rests on his hands in what seems a peacefully pensive manner

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Less gentle moods are conveyed by "Scared Man," in which clenched hands are held up to a toothy mouth; "Ashamed Girl," whose downcast, hair-covered head amounts to a refusal to show her face; and an upturned skull in "Pain" that makes eternal rest seem anything but restful

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Throughout the series, the impulse to impute some psychology onto the subjects is accompanied by a forensic interest in what remains of them: exposed skulls and empty eye sockets here, patches of leathery skin there, tattered robes as final fashion statements, teeth that seem ready for another bite, and hair so thick and black that one wonders if any magic was worked with ancient hair-care products

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Salcedo has put together such a meditatively effective exhibit that his choice of framing for these photos can often seem jolting. In one of the show's two rooms, some pieces are ensconced in rough log frames instead of the thin black ones used elsewhere in the exhibition; others are set within retable-shaped wood frames painted with colorful floral motifs. Whatever the ethnographic intention behind such framing, the visually jarring results threaten to turn the photos into exploitative kitsch. It's enough to make the dead sit up and take notice.

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