Polly Chandler Photograph by Joe Gomez

Polly Chandler
Photograph by Joe Gomez

A Photographic Narrative

by Sally Schloss

Polly Chandler’s disturbing and luminous black-and-white photos are like composed stills from dreams. She is the dreamer, the characters, and storyteller, photographing what she imagines. Her narrative metaphors express the deeply personal. By sharing what is vulnerable in herself she invites the viewers to connect to their own responses.

“A quote that comes the closest to defining art for me,” says Chandler, is “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” [from the British street artist Banksy].

Chandler’s latest photo series, You Build It Up, You Wreck It Down, certainly embodies this artistic statement of purpose. The title is taken from a lyric by Tom Waits, whose songs and voice resonate for Chandler. His words expose emotional nerves and describe relationships through a glass darkly.

Another lyric, “You’re the Key That Got Lost,” is paired with a shot of a dark interior staircase in an apartment building. The fluorescent lights in the ceiling glow softly. The top stairs disappear into the gloom above. At the bottom of the stairs there’s an open doorway leading into muted daylight. Our eyes are deliberately focused on an illuminated key ring with its set of keys that have fallen and been left. One skeleton key, separated from the others, dangles onto its own step. The chilling image invites interpretation: Is there someone trapped and those keys will never open that door again? Is this a story about imprisonment and abandonment? Someone else might have a different interpretation. The fact is you must participate when looking, which is one of the pleasures of experiencing this work.

Chandler got her MFA in 2004. She has exhibited her work nationally, and her photographs have been published in magazines such as Photo District News, American Photo, and B&W Magazine. She moved here from Austin, Texas, six months ago.

“I cart around this huge large-format view camera and mass of equipment. Every one of my shots is completely constructed. To prepare, I take snaps on my iPhone and will even draw stick figures. When I look through the lens everything is upside down and backwards.

“So many people think I do manipulation of the image in Photoshop when, in reality, it’s all done in the camera. A shoot can take four hours. It’s very hard, but if it weren’t difficult it wouldn’t be exciting.

“My photography is about making connections with people and how I can tell my story. Words for me are inadequate.”

Chandler is right. The photos speak for themselves.

For more information about Polly Chandler, please visit www.pollychandler.com.

From a series of work inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits. His song “Make It Rain” was the impetus

From a series of work inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits. His song “Make It Rain” was the impetus

From a series of work inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits. His song “Make It Rain” was the impetus

From a series of work inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits. His song “Make It Rain” was the impetus

My mother is in many of my images. Almost all of my large-format-film photography is essentially a visual diary, and the people in the images are “stand-__ins” for me.  This is no exception, and we all want to know the same thing in the end.

My mother is in many of my images. Almost all of my large-format-film photography is essentially a visual diary, and the people in the images are “stand-__ins” for me. This is no exception, and we all want to know the same thing in the end.

Leisha’s Umbrella is probably one of the rare images that, for me, convey a sense of freedom and joy.

Leisha’s Umbrella is probably one of the rare images that, for me, convey a sense of freedom and joy.

This is literally a self-portrait, also inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits in which he sings about a house where nobody lives. As I turned 40 and have never married, I realized that my body made the choice of whether I would have a family or not. For me this image is a narrative expressing my sentiments concerning that.

This is literally a self-portrait, also inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits in which he sings about a house where nobody lives. As I turned 40 and have never married, I realized that my body made the choice of whether I would have a family or not. For me this image is a narrative expressing my sentiments concerning that.

This is the only digital photograph in the body of work featured here. I took this with my iPhone while on a walk. I came upon this strange yard- art and couldn’t help but think of it as a moon. This image is a self-­‐portrait titled My Own Moon.

This is the only digital photograph in the body of work featured here. I took this with my iPhone while on a walk. I came upon this strange yard- art and couldn’t help but think of it as a moon. This image is a self-­‐portrait titled My Own Moon.

Screen shot 2015-07-30 at 12.38.32 PM

This image is probably one of my most personal and, again, comes from a series of work inspired by Tom Waits’ lyrics; particularly the line “Lay your head where my heart used to be.”

Screen shot 2015-07-30 at 12.42.20 PM

Ascending from Beneath 1st St. Bridge. I had moved to Texas from a small town. It was my first year in Austin. I was lonely but also hopeful.

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