Nancy Landin calls her current series of photographs “Small Stories,” because many of them suggest “magical” tales to her. Her subjects are mysterious and suggestive: some leaves on a wall, a broken window, an indistinct nude in gentle light. The colors are soft, supple, sensual, with none of the glossy assertiveness of much conventional color photography–a result of the unusual process she uses to print them.
Landin, 44, a Chicago native who now lives in Evanston, began photographing seriously in her 20s, but resumed taking pictures only after a long hiatus four years ago, while taking classes with Richard Olderman at the Evanston Art Center. From Olderman she learned not to worry too much about technique, an inhibition she’d picked up from an earlier class: “It doesn’t matter that you know the exact f-stop you’re going to use; just go out and do it.”
But it was from a friend that she learned about Polaroid dye transfers, a technique based on subverting a process for making Polaroid prints out of slides. She feeds her slides into a slide printer, a small machine that transfers the image onto Polaroid film. Then, working quickly, she presses the film, negative side down, onto soaked watercolor paper before it’s finished developing. The transferred image, she says, “turns out to look to me like little watercolor paintings.”
The look turns out to be perfect for the photos’ suggestive content. One shows her son’s unmade bed with a window in the background. We see the disarray left by the sleeper; Landin felt that “the imprint of dreams was still in the bed.” Another shows an antique white blouse that Landin has had “for years and years and years through the 60s,” hanging on an old hanger. Such a photo “leaves you with a story–where was this blouse, what happened after this was taken off?” She photographed the broken window of an abandoned building on a trip to New Mexico, where she was “For the first few days at a loss because it seemed what there was to photograph were pretty doorways. And then I started finding things like this,” which to her evoked the “realness, the sacredness” of the land.
All viewers may not see everything Landin does in her images, which is fine with her. She leaves her work untitled because titles would “lead people in a direction rather than letting them go where they would.” And Landin’s own interpretations of her images are more associative than literal. In a silhouette profile of her young daughter, mostly black and white, the figure is bathed in whiteness. “The light . . . just went right through her,” says Landin. But her face is concealed, and her body at first glance could be an adult’s. Landin’s portraits usually don’t show faces, partly because, in her words, “it’s not about the person; it’s about the space and the light.”
But Landin also hides the faces because she thinks of all her pictures as self-portraits: “It was me running in those shadows, it was me in that church in that dark light as a small child.” One of her photographs is a view out the window of a dark room onto a sunlit scene of a house, a yard, and a tree. Landin, pointing to the darkness, says “I see myself a lot in this space, looking out . . . sort of standing back . . . and not really being connected to what’s always out there.” While working, she says, she often recalls lines from a Tracy Chapman song: “I’m trying to protect what I keep inside / All the reasons why I live my life.”
Twenty of Nancy Landin’s “Small Stories” are on view at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago, 1567 Maple in Evanston, through September 16. Gallery hours are 10 to 5 Monday through Friday and 10 to 4 Saturday. Call 708-475-4848 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.