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.