In the early ’80s, Peggy Nolan’s father gave her a 35mm camera to take pictures of his grandchildren. She spent several decades documenting her growing brood in black and white film, which she developed in her laundry room turned darkroom.
As her children grew up and started moving out, Nolan continued to develop her craft, earning a BFA followed by an MFA. Inspired by the work of Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Nan Goldin, she began shooting in color in natural light. When her first grandchild was born, Nolan started photographing her adult children and their offspring from the perspective of the family matriarch. The work, spanning twelve years, is published in Nolan’s first monograph, Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma (Daylight Books, November 2018)
“This is a book about how a very large family and their many partners and offspring get through the day…This is how I see the folks I love and sometimes not even like so much,” writes Nolan in the book. “It has been quite challenging to make pictures about grown children with lives of their own. They no longer slouch on my old saggy couch and bitch about going to school. Their body language is more subtle, their worries more profound.”
Nolan’s obsession with photography is rooted in a childhood tragedy. When she was nine years old, and her brother was five, Nolan’s mother was killed in a car accident. Her father destroyed all the family photographs in case they would upset his children. This early experience fueled Nolan’s determination many years later to document the childhood of her own seven children and eight great grandchildren.
Nolan sums up her journey like this: “I got married, raised seven kids, stayed home, started photographing, shoplifted film, went back to college, studied hard, got divorced, got pierced up, worked harder, graduated from college, stole more film, made more pictures, went back to college, graduated from graduate school, kids grew, calmed down, stopped stealing film, started thinking more, shot better pictures, still thinking, still making pictures.”
Real Pictures: Tales of a Badass Grandma
By Peggy Nolan