It begins with a walk. Cracks on a sidewalk. Birds on a line, then suddenly in flight. A streak of clouds above the treeline. A rusty staple embedded in a telephone pole. Fragments of paper clinging to a utility box. The mysterious tracings of an insect’s trail across a length of wood.
Nancy Mims’ work begins with her daily practice of walking, looking, shaking out and rearranging the bits of everyday debris cluttering her mind. Tracing a meandering route through her neighborhood, she empties her mind, filling her camera with bits and pieces of what she encounters. These shards, connected, become the scaffolding of her thinking. Her images, on paper and on fabric, make us look again. Is that the Milky Way, or spilled milk on asphalt? Yes. In our daily to-and-fro, grackles chattering in the trees are a noisy parking lot annoyance. In Nancy’s photograph, their sudden flight, frozen, is a reason to look up and see the immensity of the sky.
This daily dirt, these cracks and spills and vines curling over rusting metal, is messy, unfixed. The dirt piles up, the cracks widen, the vines grow to hide the fence underneath. The bird that fell from the sky (from a tree?) withers into feather and bone. The maddening chaos of this mess and decay reveals both the inevitability of change, and the infinite, elegant order of the universe. Nancy’s photographs, snapped in the moment, by the dozens, seem effortless. Her meticulous process of editing, carefully reviewing, editing, discarding images (by the dozens), results in a collection that reflects this elegant order, and depicts those chaotic forces of change in action, frozen in the moment. Her images are tiny confrontations with the infinite.
These bits of the infinite are all the more wondrous because they are rooted in a specific present. On that sidewalk, in that alley, that tree. The mundane features of the daily urban landscape are a static background blur in most of our lives. For Nancy, as for many artists with deep roots in the South, these cast-off bits and pieces are animate. They tell stories; they are interconnected clues to a riddle as big and unknowable as the sky and as familiar as the bit of paper clinging to a thumbtack on a pole. Her daily practice of assembling these clues is one of filling a jar with questions. The whole picture may be too immense to see, but the corner that is this iridescent reflection in this puddle in this pothole on this street is fixed now, and ours to ponder as we piece our own universe together.
Nancy is represented by Photo Méthode Gallery in Austin, Texas.
Follow Nancy on Instagram @nancymims