Kevin Nance's last story for the Herald-Leader was about Central Kentucky photographer James Archambeault, famous for his evocative pictures of the commonwealth's landscapes.
"I don't think I understood it at the time," says Nance, who now lives in Chicago, "but even though we think of him as a photographer of subjects — in this case, the beautiful landscapes of Kentucky — when you look at his photographs, he is a stalker of the light, which is pretty much how he described it."
Since that story in 1998, Nance has become a fellow traveler, often departing his Chicago apartment before dawn with his camera bag on his shoulder in search of marvelous light.
Nance, 54, is best known to Lexingtonians as the Herald-Leader's arts writer for 10 years starting in 1988. On Friday evening, he returns as an artist in his own right, with an exhibit of his photography at the Hunt-Morgan House that is part of Gallery Hop.
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Photography has been part of his journalistic toolkit since his days as a military journalist serving in the Army at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia, Nance says. He even took a graduate-level course in photojournalism at the University of South Carolina with Jack Hillwig, who went on to teach at Eastern Kentucky University.
"He taught me the history of photojournalism, a lot of the basic philosophies and theory of photography," Nance says.
But then Nance went to work for several newspapers — including the Herald-Leader, The Tennessean in Nashville and the Chicago Sun-Times — that had their own photography staffs; there was rarely a need for him to shoot photographs for his work. At the time, he says, he probably would not have been able to approach the level of the work done by the staff photojournalists at the papers where he worked.
"Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has this theory that you have to have 10,000 hours of practice in an activity or discipline to go beyond a level of mere proficiency," Nance says. "I didn't have that."
But Nance shifted focus in 2012, after being laid off from a job as director of public affairs for a Chicago architecture firm. His primary source of income is still journalism; he is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and other publications. But setting his own schedule has also given Nance time to work at his photography, much of which he says is taken within 10 blocks of his apartment near Lake Michigan.
It is different from the photojournalism he used to pursue. Nance says his work now is about capturing feelings, mood and light.
The Internet, particularly Facebook, gave Nance a place to show his work, which caught the eye of Sheila Omer Ferrell, executive director of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. Nance used to write about Ferrell and her husband, Lexington theater director Joe Ferrell, when they ran the now-defunct Phoenix Group Theatre.
The Trust presents art exhibits at the Hunt-Morgan House as part of Gallery Hop, and Ferrell asked Nance if he would be interested in showing his pieces.
"I'm so looking forward to seeing my old friends from Lexington again," Nance says. "I honestly don't care if they buy a picture. I just want them to come see the work and see me and have a reunion. If they like a photograph enough to buy it, that's the cherry on top."
Nance, who also has a show on display in Chicago and is working on some other exhibits, says he hopes photography becomes a significant stream of revenue. Regardless, he says, he is happy the unpleasant experience of losing a job has opened up an invigorating creative outlet.
"While it's probably true that nothing I do as a photographer has not been done before by somebody else, it hasn't been done by me," Nance says. "It's a new way of seeing the world, and I enjoy it in a way that is very specific. It brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy."