A number of articles have been published the last couple days about Polly Chandler, a Fine Art Photographer who had the unfortunate “pleasure” of having her work stolen by a scam artist, but talking with her I wanted to feature her work more than focus on an unfortunate happening, so I’ll give a quick run-down on what happened and share some amazing work by a true artist in her field. Unless untitled, all photos are from her series “You Build It Up, You Wreck it Down”.
According to the article on Feature Shoot, a man supposedly named Corbett Bonilla from England masqueraded as a buyer interested in some of Chandler’s fine art prints, and after exchanging several emails to figure out shipping arrangements etc, the deal was struck. A cashier’s check was mailed to her and the two $1100 photographs went off. What Chandler didn’t know was that the check had been a fake, and the bank would hold her accountable for the fraud despite filing police reports and talking to the district attorney. Now she owes a sizable sum to replace money that was spent unawares, and is selling discounted prints to recoup her losses. Although many say she bears the responsibility, she’s learned from the past, and hopefully this can be an experience to help others.
About the Artist
Polly Chandler is a fine art photographer based in Austin, Texas who had her beginnings as an art student at Southern Illinois University before moving to Austin where she remains today. Her work is largely done on a large format 4×5 Toyo 45CX film camera, and while digital photography is an available part of her equipment “arsenal,” her love and passion for photography will always be film. The publications on her website are numbered at 46 which include Photo District News, American Photo, and B & W magazine among others. Here’s some of her work, along with some questions she graciously answered.
Your biography says you graduated with an MFA in photography at Southern Illinois University, and later moved to Austin, Texas to continue your career, but that’s not the full story. Where did photography start for you?
Initially I double majored in Graphic Design and Studio Fine Art (essentially you try out many different mediums, such as metals, printmaking, painting, etc). I took Photo for Design Majors my very last Semester and thought “Crap,” I LOVE this.
With the limited amount of time I’ve spent in a dark room, I know how difficult it can be to work for hours on a single print, and never quite be happy with it. Have you had this experience recently? How do you avoid “burnout” in these situations?
Well, it’s actually been awhile since I’ve printed in the darkroom (ironically enough, I do teach a Darkroom class), but I have felt that way while shooting large format 4X5 negatives, and the frustration of a ruined negative. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun, nor would I feel accomplished at something truly amazing.
Is there a piece of work you’re really passionate about (more so than the others) and feel defines you as an artist?
I think, right now, it’s more of a series. The series called “You Build It Up, You Break It Down” is a series of images inspired by the lyrics of Tom Waits. I’ve interpreted his songs into my narratives and that’s special to me. In general my photography is essentially a journal; it’s almost hard to exhibit sometimes because it’s so vulnerable.
Your work is primarily shot on Polaroid Type 55 film, and because of this you assisted in getting the large format film back up and running with New55 after the original was discontinued in 2009. How did you help with the pioneering of this effort?
I gave a lot of advice (I was the only woman amongst a group of (wonderful) men, but I would tell them things, like “a woman would never wear that shirt, or other things I thought would help with marketing. They used one of my images a lot in their advertising, which was very flattering.
(An image she shot testing the New55 film):
Where can I obtain the New55 film? In your experience, how is this new 4×5 film different?
Well, it will be awhile before the guys get the equipment and all the tech stuff up and running before folks can get New55. It’s different in that it’s thicker, and that the border isn’t the same, other than that, I have limited experience, I don’t see much difference! It’s great!
Your large format film work tells some incredibly captivating stories, both visually and emotionally, tell me a little about what inspires it. (You can refer to a couple examples in this one if that helps).
Nearly all of my work is autobiographical, so each image is really a narrative of an experience in my life, an emotion, etc. Even if I have a subject stand in for me, it is meant to represent me.
In some recent articles this week, there’s been mention of your work being stolen, and a print sale you’ve held to recoup your losses. Is there anything you can share from this experience that might help protect others? What are some of your thoughts after the fact?
I am shocked, I never would have expected this, and also, I believe I am too trusting. My thoughts are still spinning actually. I am as angry at my bank, Wells Fargo, as I am at this “Corbett Bonell” (who masqueraded as her customer). Wells Fargo hasn’t been helpful.
What would you say to an aspiring photographer who wants to explore film photography in a time where digital has become the popular medium? Is there any specific piece of advice you’d give them?
DO IT! I truly believe every photographer should learn on film, it is where you understand and appreciate, covet and hope for your image each time you process that roll of film. I feel that digital has made us sloppy, with an “Ah, I can fix that mistake later in post.” Film makes you do it right the first time around; it makes you hone your craft!
Although an unfortunate event happened for Polly Chandler, it’s given an opportunity for the world to see more of her work, and I’m glad for that. Good film photographers are becoming scarce and seeing work like this that’s well planned, has feeling, and is a little rough around the edges due to the medium is refreshing to say the least.