David Nanni Portfolio Contest Winner

Words: Larry Lytle

Magicians lay no singular claim to the use of sleight of hand, because it’s always been in the photographer’s bag of tricks as well. Both have used it in a variety of ways to alter our perceptions and challenge what we think we know by inserting conjured-up fractures in “reality.” David Nanni has proven, through this evocative body of work, that he is a master of that elegant, confounding illusionistic technique.

“I was simply changing the expected; as soon as the mirror was on the ground, things began to change. My task was to direct and control that level of change, affecting the illusion. The illusion comes from how much the image challenges the viewer’s preconceived visual world.”

For the most part, photographers like Henry Peach Robinson, William Mortensen and Jerry Uelsmann, to mention a very few, have used combined negatives or drawn onto the photograph’s surface to bring forth their chimera. In the past two decades Photoshop has become the tool of choice to meld separate shots and blur the distinction between the real and not real. But whatever the process, artists typically use it in a way that never calls attention to it, making the scenario look seamless.

Nanni’s photographs use a more direct and unselfconscious approach to create his illusionistic space. Indeed, he wanted the viewer to puzzle out how he fabricated his deception, and so decided to use a simple but shrewd device to punch a hole in reality—a mirror.

“The hard edge of the mirror is important in that it defines the mirror, which is oddly out of place in the landscape, and challenges the viewer’s perception. It also defines the traditional ‘frame’ of a second image.” While other photographers painstakingly blend the edges of their illusionistic landscapes, one into the other, Nanni wants us to see how he creates his visual deception.

“Unlike the double exposure, where the composed images may be seamless, the edge of the mirror is always present in the photos.”

By letting us see the mirror’s edge, Nanni reminds us that the natural line of the landscape is never continuous and will always contain, at some point, the expected manmade disruption. Usually this happens with a house, fence or some other structure. He is not opposed to these interruptions in space. However, instead of the expected, the mirror accomplishes the abrupt alteration of the landscape by revealing a completely unexpected or disorienting place. The reflection becomes a discontinuous space within a space.

Nanni, like any good artist/magician, takes what he knows and then builds on the knowledge, letting experiment and happenstance create a unique perspective.
“I had an idea in my head based on observing reflective surfaces, such as buildings made of glass and how they would rearrange the surrounding sky, or something as simple as my car’s review mirror. The process evolved into experimenting with the unexpected—that became the exciting part of the image making.”

It’s plain to see in these photographs that Nanni uses design strategies that utilize line, shape, composition and form.

“The frame of the camera is like working with a page, the end result is a two-dimensional representation, and the elements are arranged by a combination of intent and intuition,” he notes.

Nanni’s photographs have a playful, lyrical side as well: a picnic tabletop that melts away into trees, fence and sky; a circle of reflected desert that hovers in the air, seemingly magnifying the surrounding landscape and cloud-filled firmament; a jet that fleetingly shoots across a patch of space, which in turn appears to be subsiding into a tangled field of grass. This is poetic, magical and surreal photography at its best.

All these photographs remind us that there is a truth in simplicity. In David Nanni’s images we are shown that a documentary factuality tethered to a reflection in a mirror can conjure for us a magical place we call photography.

Fact File
David Nanni, Spokane, WA


Please contact the photographer for print sizes and pricing.

Photo 1 Photo 3 Photo 5 Photo 7
Mirror in Desert, California, 1989