While at a flea market, Nancy Dudley came across an amateur astronomer’s notebook, which later were discovered to be the efforts of a distant relative. Using discarded Polaroid paraphernalia or ruined prints as a substrate, she digitally composites selections from this enigmatic ledger along with photographs of herself as a child and typewritten phrases from old letters. In this series, titled Woodbury's Notebook
, the scientific diagrams transform into allegory and the results are cumulative and poetic.
Mimicking the piecemeal nature of an album and modus operandi of memory, Dudley presents the viewer with fragments, small fractions of a whole she doesn’t even know. With the little girl serving as our “guide or witness,” we observe, notice patterns, sleuth, just as we might if we happened upon a collection of ephemera. Heightened by their presentation as lush Iris prints, the layered results recall a chalkboard or journal in aesthetics and principle—a tabula rasa for personal and constructed recollection. That her substrate is a mistake, throw away, or by-product of an instantaneous process, makes it all the more poignant and mysterious. Photoshop and Polaroid become her mnemonic devices in the creation of a 21st century scrapbook.
Dudley has a diverse background, including a BA in English, studies at Massachusetts College of Art, and a MFA in photography from Rhode Island School of Design. Currently, she works at Historic New England (formerly SPNEA) and teaches photography at Salem State College.
Layers of meaning inherent in analytical observation and personal experience are captivating. The emergence of metaphor, convergent memories, and imaginative narrative seem inevitable. The everyday document is one area where the conversation is rich.
The Woodbury's Notebook project consists of twelve images at this time. Four of the twelve are shown here. The background of each digitally composed image represents possibilities. It is a scan of either the usually discarded layer of Polaroid peel apart film or, in the case of Figure 15, a scan of a toned silver gelatin print of a light leak in a Diana camera. These are beautiful and mysterious to me.
The element of shared knowledge through observation is represented by the pages of an astronomy notebook kept by a distant relation from New Gloucester, Maine in the early 20th century. Care is apparent in the handwriting and diagrams. I think there is earnestness and innocence in his work.
The little girl is the third component. She may be a guide or a witness. I think she is a guide. She is meant to bring a sense of play to the work. She is reminiscent of the human scale figures in early landscape photographs.
The determining element is what I call the contemporary utterance. Fragments from letters I have received and, in one case, the inscription of a frustrated piano teacher are the sources for this element. I want the lively quality of the words and the deep tones and hues of the Iris prints to divulge to a viewer the easy way language and visual sustenance can turn back in upon themselves and take us somewhere new and unexpected.
CAPTION: Nancy Dudley (Essex, MA), Figure 1, 2004, from the series Woodbury's Notebook, Iris print, 20 x 16 inches, courtesy of the artist. Dudley has a diverse background, including a BA in English and a MFA in photography from Rhode Island School of Design. Currently, she works at Historic New England (formerly SPNEA) and teaches at Salem State College.