Learning through the lens

South Suburban photographer makes way onto art scene

Thursday, September 16, 2004

By Carole Schrock, The Star


Shortly after coming to America from Lithuania, Regina Nuttall met her husband-to-be, Len, at Chicago's Jazz Festival.  The couple Married 4 months later and reside in the South Suburbs.  Nuttall created many pieces of photo art in Lithuania.  'Talking to Statue" (top) was reminiscent of her conversations with women about their loneliness in marriage.  Nuttall snapped this photo of Lithuanian noble Duke Dominykas (right) after he returned from 52 years of exile.  After WWII, his family was killed and Dominykas, then 14, was banished to Siberia.  He died after living in poverty for several years.

Why be confined to just one profession, connected to one country?

Isn't it possible to find identity in many places, even as many people?

For Lithuanian journalist and photo artist Regina Nuttall, her home is in the South Suburbs, but the composition of her personality is from a world of experiences.

A woman with two daughters, Nuttall is learning all over again. She is learning English, though she's fluent in her native Lithuanian and in Russian.

She studies American life, but her work in Europe acquainted her with many cultures.

She's making her way onto the Chicago art scene, though she's a well-known artist in her homeland.

"I thought I would come to America and make a million dollars at least," she said.

"But it didn't work out that way. Adventures just love me."

Ardent and talkative, Nuttall spoke about her grandparents, nobility who were killed and exiled by the Red Army as Lithuania was absorbed into the Soviet Union.

"It is a very common story in Lithuania," she said.

One sees hints of nobility in Nuttall. Holding herself in a stately manner, she greets guests with a warm smile.

The journalist in her, however, summons an outspoken, blunt nature. A pointed wit is matched by her spiky hairdo.

Three years ago, Nuttall immigrated to Chicago with her younger daughter, Mingaile, now 16. The elder, Barbora, was married and stayed in Lithuania.

Most of Nuttall's time was spent working odd jobs and photographing the city.

"The places in Chicago I was interested in shooting turned out to be very dangerous," she said.

"Once, a group of angry people even wanted to attack me and my old, cheap Mazda.

"I didn't know you needed to get permission from the person you'd like to shoot. In Europe it isn't necessary."

She photographed peasants, statesmen, nobles, children and all kinds of women in Europe as a photojournalist and a photo artist.

Determined to break the mold of traditional female beauty in her photos, she used pregnant, plump, wrinkly, old and young women as models.

"I saw all these women at parties, beautiful women, but they were objects to the men in their lives," she said.

"That's why I shoot different women. I want men to see the beauty in their wives."

Married at age 18 to a popular Lithuanian sculptor, Nuttall struggled with her marriage. She loved her husband, but he was consumed by his art.

"He was crazy about art and didn't know how to boil a potato," she said. "He could die from starvation and wouldn't notice it."

After divorcing him, she was convinced she would never marry again. However, soon after arriving in the United States, she met Len Nuttall, a software developer, at Chicago's Jazz Festival.

The two quickly hit it off and were married four months later. Len is focused on his wife, smiling at her when she speaks. Plus, he cooks.

"I fell in love like a teenager," she said. "People say, 'I'm jealous. You have a great husband.' But I waited for love."

Now she's settled in this small town, nestled in a country home, but Nuttall is not content to stop moving.

Though her art was featured in more than 20 personal openings in Lithuania, she's taking a break from it and focusing on journalism.

As she works to improve her written English, she writes for Amerikos Lietuvis, the Lithuanian American Weekly, in Summit. The paper serves the large Lithuanian American population in Chicago.

"The pay there is too little to call it a job, but I want to help my readers," she said.

Pages eight and nine, or "Reginos Palepe," are written and edited by Nuttall and contain information on social services, exercise, weekend activities, personality profiles and much more.

Because of her immigrant experience, she said she's compelled to help others like her. Readers have a direct connection to Nuttall, as her cell phone number is in print.

Women and men write letters and call regularly, asking all kinds of questions. While she loves her native Lithuania, her goal is to help people adapt to American life.

"They wanted the paper to be about the Lithuanian community and about Lithuania," she said.

"I said, 'No, you and I live in America."

Last year, after seeing "The Patriot" around Independence Day, Nuttall researched and printed information about the American Revolutionary War.

Articles like this help her readers better understand the country and people with whom they live.

"I got letters from people saying they did not imagine Americans went through such bloody things in their history," she said.

Immigration issues are important to Nuttall. She addresses labor issues in her pages, urging readers to avoid unethical employers.

Because of her commitment to women, she interviews brides of "paper weddings," women who marry to gain citizenship.

"I interviewed women in Chicago who had married only for documents and became very unhappy," she said.

"Living in Lithuania, I wouldn't believe these things could be so commonplace.

"I had invited people to look at women with respect while working for women's magazines in Lithuania.

"I didn't enjoy it, but I learned from looking at the other side of things."

She writes a monthly column called "Letters from America" for Ieva, a women's magazine in Lithuania.

She also is learning to write children's literature through a correspondence course.