Peggy Levison Nolan: Tales of a Badass Grandma
Peggy Levison Nolan is currently running a successful and passionate Kickstarter campaign for her new monograph, Tales of a Badass Grandma. Peggy Levison Nolan has documented her life, family and children for years now.
After all this time, Peggy has decided to accumulate 12 years in to one photo book.
In Peggy’s bio on Dina Mitrani Gallery’s website (Peggy’s gallery representation) it sums up not only her life, but the essence behind her, this book and her photography “Got married raised seven kids lived in the projects stayed home cooked and cleaned dreamed of making art started photographing shoplifted film learned to print shot a lot of pictures stole more film moved out of the projects went back to college shot more film studied hard got a job shot more pictures got divorced got pierced up worked harder graduated from college stole more film got some grants got some attention not really enough shot more film made more and more pictures got a better job went back to college graduated from graduate school kids grew moved out of the house shot more film got more grants got more attention still not enough calmed down stopped stealing film slowed down some started thinking more shot better pictures calmed down slowed down still thinking still making pictures.”
Here are some insights Peggy had to some of my questions.
I stumbled upon a picture of you and Dina Mitrani on Facebook and the description of you in the caption as a “Badass Grandma” immediately got me curious. I followed the link to your Kickstarter campaign and I got hooked by the energy in your pictures and your spirit. In the kickstarted video clip, you talk about the many hand-made books you produced over the years, and correct me if I am wrong, but this is your first published monograph. How is this book different? What makes it the same?
Most of my other books were made only for my family without considering a wide anonymous audience. I made one book several years ago funded by The Girl’s Club Collection for a grant called Artists in Action. It was titled Stay and the 75 copies all sold quickly. The Badass Grandma book will be the first real published monograph.
I assume that making a selection from a career long body of work is a grueling process but that is how I would feel about it. What was it like for you? How did you go about parting with long time favorites that couldn’t make it in to the book?
The rhythm of how images go from here to there is most important. looking at photographs is a pleasure for me and I really like to edit….both in the world before I trick the shutter and afterwards from big stacks of prints. I’m not really attached to any single photograph like that
Do you consider this book a retrospective?
This current book is about my relationship with my adult children and their offspring.I have a large body of work in black and white done over the 20 years that my kids were living with me before I began to see in color. By that time most of them had grown up and moved out. I spent a lot of time photographing sun lit dust.
Lets talk about the Badass grandma. Who came up with the title of the book?
I got a nose ring in my late 40’s so that I could photograph teenagers without too much talking and I pushed 7 babies out without too much complaining. That, in my humble opinion, is badass.
Reading biographical details about you, I think it’s fair to say that you had a rough beginning as an artist and as a photographer. How did your life experiences affect your photography and how did your photography change your life?
When I was young I wanted to be a writer and I used most of my creative energy on words. Then I got married and got pregnant a lot (my choice) and gave up all aspirations of a public life. I cooked everything (three squared a day) from scratch….and I mothered. The subject matter for a life’s worth of photographs had occurred naturally. (No family planning). There were so many of us that it was much easier to stay close to home. The creative lust was always simmering and when I finally picked up a camera, an entire new way of looking at the world, mostly around my house, fell into my lap. I hardly needed to move off a chair without something amazing happening.
Since “shop lifting film” is such an unusual positive aspect of someone’s biography, and an integral part of your photographic path, I must ask – where did the urgency to photograph stem from?
My mother died when I was nine and my brother was 5. We had hardly any images of our childhood with her and we grew up with few visual memories. I think I’m driven to witness the lives of my family so that they will know emotionally what they’re about. Plus, the mystery of what a film picture may look like when it’s developed is addicting like a drug with a much better payoff.
You have decided to create a kickstarter campaign that will help support the making of this book. It is a move artist didn’t have in the past. In general, it used to be harder for artist to gain the financial support to back their projects and books. Can you tell us about your experience as this campaign runs as we speak? And would you have any advice on handling a Kickstarter to any other artist out there reading this.
My oldest daughter Helena runs a successful fulfillment business in San Francisco and understands the big picture of fund raising. She has lots of experience with this kind of crowdsourcing site and coached me about making an interesting video, etc. I watched lots of videos on Kickstarter and realized that I couldn’t sit at a desk and talk into a camera. The video I made with my good friend and fellow artist Ivan Santiago is what I’m about. My advice is to be as honest as one can and hope that the project is a worthy one. Try not to be boring. I have never done this before and my only fund raising experience was when I was on the board of a womens’ shelter and it was easy to ask for help. This is far more agonizing and filled with stress.
Can you tell us about what stands behind some of the technical specs of the book itself? Size, paper, finish, cover etc. that will make this book badass indeed…
116 page hard bound 8×10” on Magno Matt paper containing a really good version of a wonderfully ordinary life.
Can you tell us a little about partnering with Daylight books?
I have been like a cranky baby and they have been the best baby sitters ever.
What would be your ultimate advice to young artist who have a long career in front of them? What should they learn from your experience?
Art making comes naturally to everyone and only has to be practiced like any sport. Keep a sense of humor at all costs and don’t think about the end product too much; you may lose all the magical thinking. The process is life long……watching the world go by and thinking and recognizing and putting all of it into something that may amaze. Who could resist such a mission?
Please consider taking part of Peggy’s Kicksarter by clicking here and pledging!
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
Text + Image: Rebecca Norris Webb: Night CallsJuly 27th, 2021
Lenscratch Student Award Honorable Mention: Vanessa LeroyJuly 20th, 2021
Lenscratch Student Prize Second Place Winner: Dylan HausthorJuly 15th, 2021
Focus on South Africa: Jansen van StadenJuly 8th, 2021
Focus on South Africa: Tshepiso MazibukoJuly 6th, 2021