Nancy Pierce: A Magical Way of Looking at Things

Donna Fischer

donna fischer | the artist next door | jan. 2016

'Promises'Photography is one medium that never stops changing, both in the framework of art, as well as in the more pedestrian sense. Technology keeps prying its way into the vernacular, and what was once nerdy, like comparing megapixels and smartphone advances, now passes for conversation. And we like our photography quick and easy. Instagram enables users to turn the meekest snapshot into a textured memory to be cherished with family and friends. No training required.

For Nancy Pierce, photography isn't quick and easy. She is someone who has had a camera in her hands since she was quite small, and even without her camera she's learned to observe her natural surroundings as though looking through the lens. Her works in nature and abstract nature command attention for their composition and their delicate assortment of detail. A humble milkweed plant seems to puff up with pride under her lens' scrutiny.

Part of what keeps bringing Pierce back to her endeavor is the element of surprise. “It's very exciting. Sometimes they're a surprise to me; sometimes they come out the way I saw it and planned it in that moment. It's sort of magic. It almost becomes more than life. To look at it is cool, but when you isolate it and you're just looking at that detail, the colors come alive, the textures come alive — it's pretty exciting."

'Woods in Winter'Pierce says that a photographer needs flexibility in order to make the most of nature's opportunities. “There are times when I set out with the intent of going somewhere specifically to take pictures, but often times what I think I'm going to take a picture of is not what I end up with," she explains. “The light will hit it a certain way, there will be an unexpected boat or bird that comes through. You have to be flexible or you could miss a lot of the shots. A lot of times when I plan something ahead and go out to take pictures of it I'm very disappointed in what I get. Partly because I imagine in my head what I think it should look like, and then the lighting isn't quite right; it's better in my head than in the camera."

Once digital photography came along, Pierce saw the potential for ease and efficiency and never looked back. But there are weaknesses in the format. “You always have to do some basic things because a digital camera doesn't see things the same way film did. Sharpening for instance is a must because edges are not very crisp sometimes. When you blow it up you can see that the definition isn't there. Brightening is important. Your camera always wants to take things at a medium grey, so if you take a picture of the snow it thinks that the snow should be grey, so you have to brighten it up or the snow will look grey." Some artists enjoy twisting things out of the norm but Pierce says she stays away from altering natural colors. She owns two Canon cameras and admits that it's fairly comparative with Nikon.

When the subject matter is right, Pierce switches over to black and white. “When you're looking at black and white everything is reduced to shape and line and contrast, so the details look different," she says. “Sometimes a perfectly mediocre picture when turned into black and white becomes stunning; the lack of color or something that makes it mediocre when it's color makes it vibrant in black and white."

Pierce has been selling her photography for about seven years, and when she exhibits at art shows she hears an element of wonder in the comments from viewers. “A lot of times people look at my pictures and say, 'Wow, I didn't see that.'They recognize what it is but they wouldn't have picked it out as something interesting. I've heard comments like, 'Oh I'd like to be there.'Sometimes people connect with it and it brings back a memory from their childhood and they'll have a story about what that picture means to them as far as their memories go. I always have a story behind why I took the picture, but many oftentimes that isn't as important as what you see and connect with. I try not to inform people about the pictures because I don't want to spoil it for them."

'The Path Ahead'Pierce took one photography class in college, which set her up with the basics of old – school film processing and picture composition. Beyond that, she's found her style all on her own. And it's an art that continues to present her with stimulating challenges. “I think, generally speaking, the most difficult ones are when you're photographing something that everyone has seen and it's a recognizable landmark, to take a fresh look at it is difficult. How do you make it different? How do you make it more interesting than what everyone has already seen on postcards? That's a challenge."

Pierce usually has her camera with her in the event she happens upon a can't – miss photo opportunity. “I don't regret having it with me and not having any pictures to take, but the day you go out and you see something and you don't have your camera it's very frustrating," she adds.

Most of Pierce's photos are Wisconsin – based, but some are from other areas in the U.S. The white gypsum sands of White Sands, New Mexico still beckon Pierce back for its artistic potential. An incorrect choice in lenses distorted all of her photos on a past trip. “I'd love to go back and take them over again," says Pierce wistfully. “It's seeing that crisp line at the top of the dune where the wind has carved it out. It's the way the sun hits it and you have light on one side and shadow on the other side." Spoken like a true artist.

You can see Pierce's work up close at Mud Creek Coffee in Stockbridge or at the Wisconsin Arts Gallery in Allouez. Her website is at Sunlightartsstudio.com. Look for her at the upcoming Green Bay Art Colony exhibit in the Neville Public Museum.


Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.

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