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|Daylight Books to publish Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma by Peggy Nolan
"There is a tenderness and a sensitivity in these pictures of family that cannot be faked. Nolan is not embedded with her subjects, she is entwined. As such, the pictures not only show she has an eye, but also a heart." -- Chris Wiley, The New Yorker
NEW YORK, NY.- In the early 1980s, when Peggy Nolan's youngest child was around three, her father gave her a 35mm Olympus camera to take pictures of his grandchildren. From her first shot, Nolan was hooked. She spent several decades honing her skills as a photographer, documenting her growing brood in black and white film which she developed in her laundry room turned darkroom. The photographs were made into family albums but never shared with the general public.
As her children grew up and started moving out, Nolan continued to develop her craft, earning a BFA followed by an MFA. Inspired by the work of Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Nan Goldin, she began shooting in color in natural light, focusing on her now empty house and the mundanities of everyday life. In 2004, when her first grandchild was born, followed by the arrival of six more, Nolan started photographing her adult children and their offspring from the perspective of the family matriarch. The work, spanning twelve years, is published in Nolan's first monograph, Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma (Daylight Books, November 2018)
Nolan writes: "This is a book about how a very large family and their many partners and offspring get through the day. There are babies being pushed out and food being cooked and dreamers staring at the ceiling. There are empty beds in good light. This is how I see the folks I love and sometimes not even like so much. ...It has been quite challenging to make pictures about grown children with lives of their own. They no longer slouch on my old saggy couch and bitch about going to school. Their body language is more subtle, their worries more profound."
Real Pictures features essays by Bonnie Clearwater, an American writer, art historian and director and chief curator of the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, and Suzanne Opton, an artist and recipient of the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship. Also included is an essay by the photographer's son, Abner Nolan.
Abner Nolan remembers his mother photographing him and his siblings when they were children: "For most of the time since, she has pointed her camera in the direction of us. We are the performing, temperamental, rebellious, accommodating, often bored people appearing as the players in the dramas at the center of her work. The pictures are unsparing in their description of our sprawling, un-kempt life, from the bad fashion decisions and dirty apartments to an endless parade of ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. Nothing was really off-limits, and we were (are) mostly willing participants."
In comparing the early photographs with the work in Real Pictures, he writes: "These photographs are decidedly different, in the way that being a grandparent is different from being a parent. There is a level of remove that allows her to fully rejoice in crying babies and their stressed-out parents -- a particular way of staring that comes with lack of responsibility for the immediate well-being of the subject."
In her essay "Crying Babies," Bonnie Clearwater addresses how Nolan's practice has evolved. "When Nolan's children left home, she turned her camera on her empty home. These silent voids offered new ways for Nolan to transform the everyday into compelling emotional experiences. Increasingly, she depended on the abstract qualities of color and light to produce this effect. Although she initially worked in the modern art photography tradition of black-and-white prints, she switched to color after she was moved by Nan Goldin's photograph of a couple whose eyes were red from crying. She realized this physical condition could not be captured in black and white."
In her essay "Tricky Business," Suzanne Opton writes: "Peggy Nolan's family photos are direct and honest. She is not the babysitter for her seven grown children. She's the force behind them. What she offers is a precious view of their lives as lovers and parents ... This is not 'lifestyle photography,' not posed, stupid selfies or tableaus of trouble or perfection. This is simple looking: the love, the tedium, the monotony, the everyday mess of life."
Nolan's magnificent obsession with photography is rooted in a childhood tragedy. When she was nine years old, and her brother was five, Nolan's mother was killed in a car accident. Her father destroyed all the family photographs in case they would upset his children. This early experience fueled Nolan's determination many years later to thoroughly document the childhood of her own seven children and eight great grandchildren.
In an interview with Aline Smithson for Lenscratch she writes: "I think I'm driven to witness the lives of my family so that they will know emotionally what they're about. Plus, the mystery of what a film picture may look like when it's developed is addicting like a drug with a much better payoff."
Peggy Nolan is a woman with a keen sense of adventure, a passionate love of life, and endless energy. She discovered photography fairly late in life and has been inseparable from her cameras ever since. Seeing photographs all around her, she photographed her seven children as they grew up, and later as adult children with their offspring. Nolan lives in Hollywood, Florida. Her work has been shown in museums that include the Museum of Modern Art ("Picturing Modernity"), Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, and more. Her work can be found in the collections of SF MOMA, Norton Museum of Art and Martin Z. Margulies in Florida.
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