Thomas Brooks Simmons, Bunker Hill Towers, Los Angeles, 1980
Black and white mural print, 42” x 78”
In 1980 Sarah Charlesworth searched the archives of wire services and tabloid newspapers for pictures of falling figures. From a selection of seventy she rephoto-graphed seven of the grainy images and enlarged them to human scale; her subjects are transformed into semi-abstract shapes hovering in front of the grids of blurry windows. Each of Charlesworth’s Stills (as the series was called) is unique and entitled with only the name of the subject, the building from which he or she fell, and the city; like tombstones, they declare only the facts, but not the manner, of the death. The most obvious precedent for the Stills are Andy Warhol’s paintings of suicide jumpers from two decades earlier, which famously literalized the numbing effect of incessant exposure to traumatic events as experienced through the mass media. Charlesworth’s works, on the other hand, are individual encounters with the mysteries of fate: it is not surprising to learn that her actual inspiration was Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), which chronicles a priest’s search for meaning after witnessing the collapse of an ancient footbridge and the resulting deaths of five people.