Book Review: Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma
In her book, Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma, artist Peggy Levisan Nolan uses the space of the home to capture her children and grandchildren in intense and overwhelming intimacy. This intensity comes from the casualness of the photographer’s immersion into the domestic space. Nolan seamlessly blends the everyday nature of her subjects with beautiful stylistic techniques; shots of a family reading together in bed together, a baby crawling across a mattress, and even a sheet slowly descending through the air are made into something pensive, beautiful, and warm all without taking away from the authenticity of the project.
Most of the pictures within family photo albums are staged in front of some landmark time or place, with the members of that family lined up standing stiffly and smiling at the camera. These photos can tell you a lot about where a family has travelled and which members of the family are the best at not blinking at bright lights, but they often reveal very little about who that family is, nor do they describe how they go through their everyday lives. Candid shots of a subject can be an effective method of capturing a person’s true and everyday self by removing the barriers of self-conscious, and even more so when these photos are taken within the subject’s home.
There’s a reason that in ancient folklore and mythology several breeds of fantastical creatures could not enter a dwelling without permission, homes are invisibly sacred to those who live in them. They’re meant to be a place of peace and shelter. People drop their guard when they come back to where they live; muscle unclench, posture relaxes, bare feet touch the ground, eyes grow steady, bellies extend as they no longer work to conceal their guts, people breathe deeply. When in one’s home, the distance between the voice inside your head and the body walking on the earth becomes so much smaller than it is outside; one becomes the self without contradiction or false presentation. In Real Pictures, Nolan taps into this relaxed intimacy of home, and depicts life masterfully.
Nolan goes beyond capturing just photos of the occupants of the house themselves. Several images in the book also focus on the things that the people have left behind; a strand of hair on a porcelain sink, a partially cleaned dish left on the table, and a pink sock forgotten under a child’s bed. The mess that this debris creates becomes a sign of life within the dwelling, marking it as a home and a place of vitality. The camera grants a weight to these objects made into talismans; something ethereal but resonant, something special and precious.
Peggy Levisan Nolan’s art does not capture anything that would be impossible to capture in any other house, but it is art because it captures something so intimate and that it would be almost impossible to notice it in the first place. It shows what it means to be a home, and once it has been seen it is impossible to overlook again.
Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma is a work by Peggy Levison Nolan, published by Daylight Books, available now and can be ordered this November here.