Reading Grey Gardens

PhotographerMary Ellen Bartley
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

#Reading Grey Gardens" examines the personal library of the Beale family—notably “Little” Edie Bouvier Beale, and her mother “Big” Edie—relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and subjects of the landmark Maysles brothers’ documentary "Grey Gardens". The books have, remarkably, remained on the shelves of the East Hampton mansion despite its renovation in the late 1970s. The project depicts books distressed by prolonged exposure to sea air, bearing the scars of the riches-to-rags trajectory of the Bouvier-Beales. The images are at once objective, yet emotionally charged, each volume a medium for the passage of time. Bartley has captured the books as a botanist might, preserving them and creating a typology that reveals the rich detail of their physicality. Each photograph invites the viewer to discover connections between the narratives suggested by the books’ titles and the fabled lives of their eccentric owners.

Story

Mary Ellen Bartley’s photographic series Reading Grey Gardens examines the personal library of the Beale family—notably “Little” Edie Bouvier Beale, and her mother “Big” Edie—relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and subjects of the landmark Maysles brothers’ documentary Grey Gardens. The books have, remarkably, remained on the shelves of the East Hampton mansion despite its renovation in the late 1970s by noted Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his journalist wife Sally Quinn, who purchased the dilapidated estate from Little Edie. Quinn personally rescued the books from a dumpster and housed them on the same shelves where her own volumes reside. Bartley, who lives just a few miles from Grey Gardens, in Wainscott, is known for her photographic investigations of books. When she learned that the Beale’s original books survived at Grey Gardens, and that their future was uncertain with the house currently up for sale, she felt an urgency to gain access to the books, which Quinn granted. Reading Grey Gardens depicts books distressed by prolonged exposure to sea air, bearing the scars of the riches-to-rags trajectory of the Bouvier-Beales. The images are at once objective, yet emotionally charged, each volume a medium for the passage of time and the relationship to the personalities that lived and played in that storied home over the past century. Bartley has captured the books as a botanist might, preserving them and creating a typology that reveals the rich detail of their physicality. Each photograph invites the viewer to discover connections between the narratives suggested by the books’ titles and the fabled lives of their eccentric, original owners. In documenting the books of Grey Gardens over several months, Bartley gives us a living archive of the Beale’s library, echoing the objective direct cinema approach pioneered by the Maysles and creating a moving alternative portrait of Little Edie Beale, who would have turned 100 this November.

About Photographer

Mary Ellen Bartley is known for her photographs exploring the tactile and formal qualities of the printed book and its potential for abstraction. . By emphasizing the unique “aura” and materiality of printed matter, Bartley’s work offers a celebration of textural and haptic properties, a particularly potent act in this increasingly digital age. She has exhibited in numerous institutions including The Queens Museum, The Walker Art Center, Houston Center for Photography, Parrish Art Museum, The Watermill Center, and National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Guatemala. Her work is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York.