Nancii Bernard’s face showed the shock and surprise each time her name was announced at the Ladysmith Fine Arts Show gala earlier this month as the photographer took home not only two category prizes but also the prestigious Best in Show.
“You’ve seen my work. It’s so out of the range of how people see photographs,” she told the Chronicle when asked to but into words how it felt to be honoured.
Bernard moved to Ladysmith with her partner a little over a year ago from Vancouver and together the couple found their dream home, complete with a studio space.
A member of the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery, this year’s 8th biennial juried show was the first time any of Bernard’s work has been displayed publicly.
She was rewarded by winning Best in Show, Best Photo Digital and Best in Sub Category – Photo/Digital Manipulated for her work M.L. #3 – one of two submissions of hers that were hung for the show.
Bernard picked up a camera about seven years ago and describes her biggest influences as coming from artists such as English printmaker Prunella Clough and Canadian abstract painter Agnes Martin.
“Just something about the quality of it, the lines…it’s so far out there for her generation,” Bernard said of Martin who hailed from Macklin, Sask, and was born in 1912 – the same year as Jackson Pollock.
“I’ve spent my life looking at photographs but also just at pictures and art. I think that’s why I gravitate more towards that kind of work.”
In terms of her own work, Bernard wasn’t content with simply learning the ins and outs of digital photography.
“A lot of people were taking photos of the world outside and I thought there’s got to be something more, and so I just started working in the studio with light and shadow and seeing what happened and what I can create.”
She also believes in not having the entire surface of the paper covered in ink.
“I wanted there to be paper, more like with how printmakers print and the paper interacts with the whole thing,” she said, adding that in her early years “if I could stick it through the printer, I stuck it through. I tried printing on everything.”
The Fine Arts Show broke attendance records at the gallery with an estimated 1,800 people viewing the show over the three weeks in February.
Approximately 300 pieces were submitted to be judged by Luke Marston, Pamela Speight and Sean Sherstone before 180 were selected as part of the show displayed Feb. 3-24.
Sherstone described the emotion of viewing Bernard’s work for the first time.
“My initial impression was just ‘wow’…it absolutely just spoke to me,” he said. “I literally almost cried, I just welled up with tears. The way it’s presented, the fine graduations of tone in it, the way the framing brings you right into the black line, everything about it is just beautiful.”
Bernard doesn’t have an immediate plans on whether she’ll show more of her work in the future but at least for now is still finding joy the the process.
“I want us to start seeing photography, it’s the same as using a brush or a pen – it’s just a tool,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it has to look like what we think a photograph is supposed to look like. It can look like anything.”