Holiday Sale! Secret Bundle + 30% Off

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
And The Broken Umbrellas Like Dead Birds-polly-chandler News & Insight

Film Photographer Scammed by Con Artist – An Interview With Polly Chandler

By Ryan Filgas on June 13th 2014

Recent Events

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”.

And If I Have To Go, Will You Remember Me-polly-chandler

And If I Have To Go, Will You Remember Me

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.

[REWIND: Billions of Dollars in Stolen Art Finally Recovered]


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.

Why Do I Save All Of This Madness In The Nightstand Drawer-polly-chandler

Why Do I Save All Of This Madness In The Nightstand Drawer

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.

If You Live It Up, You Won't Live It Down-polly-chandler

If You Live It Up, You Won’t Live It Down

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.

Another Man's Vine-polly-chandler

Another Man’s Vine

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!

The House Where Nobody Lives-polly-chandler

The House Where Nobody Lives

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.


And The Broken Umbrellas Like Dead Birds-polly-chandler

And The Broken Umbrellas Like Dead Birds

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.

There's Nothing Here For Me In This World Full Of Strangers-polly-chandler

There’s Nothing Here For Me In This World Full Of Strangers

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.

To Find more of Polly’s work or contact her for a print purchase, you can head over to her website, or Facebook Page.





Ryan Filgas is an aspiring portrait photographer and studio arts major at Humboldt State University. His life consists of talking with friends, taking classes, and planning his next outdoor adventure. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, Google+, or connect with him via email.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Kurk Rouse

    Black and white done right

    | |
  2. Matt Walsh

    Cool style and refreshing take on black and white photography. I agree a 100% with all the comments about the banks.

    | |
  3. josh

    nice article Ryan. Like you mentioned, the story has been going around but it’s nice to get a look at the artist and her amazing work. Thanks.

    | |
  4. Drew Pluta

    She got scammed by her bank as much as the con man. Something similar happened to me some years ago. Another example of how the banks dump the responsibility down to us when it really should rest with them. If they hold a check to insure funds then why release the funds to us? As users of their services we don’t have access to the internal working and verification of the banking industry. That’s why we use them. When they get burned by their own mistakes they pass it along to us.

    | |
    • Ryan

      That could be true. It’s hard to place fault in these situations, especially if she was notified by the bank that the funds aren’t officially cleared for a month after deposit. It is clear however that it was something she had probably done before and didn’t give a second thought to because it had always gone well up until that point. I agree that it’s terrible policy to release funds early, but we have a banking system that preys on consumer credit in an effort to gather up the interest and overdraft fees. It’s almost like they want people to make mistakes, and it needs to change.

      | |