Art Manifests Itself: an interview with photographer nancy savage.

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All images in this post © Nancy Savage

Ron B. Wilson: Thank you Nancy for your interest in sharing your work with my readers. I’ve been following you on Instagram for years now and I just love your imagery. Your photography is honest, real and diverse. I feel personally connected to the unique people in your work, and ultimately connected to you. To those who are not familiar with your work, can you please introduce yourself?

Nancy Savage: I have embraced creativity and art in my personal and professional life as long as I can remember. 

My first career was owner and designer of an interior designer firm for over twenty years. When I decided to retire from that business I felt a need to fill my creative void. Little did I know that my desire and affection for extensive world travel would be the beginning of my photography career. The past twenty plus years, I have committed to exploring and photographing people and places around the world. 

My style as a photographer lies somewhere between lifestyle and documentary. I treasure the many unique and exclusive places I’ve been, but my true love is the diversity of people I’ve come to know along this journey. 

My work has been published in magazines and online publications including National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, GuruShots, Colorado Outdoors and Photography Magazine. Exhibitions include African Photo Festival NYC 2019, GuruShots Berlin, Germany, GuruShots Melbourne, Australia, Modern Nomad Rino Arts District Denver, Colorado.

Ron B. Wilson: If you had to describe your work and the power of photography in a 30-second pitch, what would you say?

Nancy Savage: My camera allows me to enter into my subjects’ world. Over the years, I have honed the skill of “the approach.” It is done with the utmost respect and desire to understand people of very unique cultures and customs regardless of how idiosyncratic they appear. The portrait becomes more powerful and authentic when I make eye contact with people. I always feel like we are mutually looking deep into each other’s souls.

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Ron B. Wilson: You owned an interior design firm before pursuing your career in photography. How do you feel that creative process helped you transition into photography?

Nancy Savage: Art manifests itself in many ways. As an Interior Designer my forte was custom homes. I loved creating the space, which was totally different for each client. My right brain was at full capacity, compartmentalizing several different homes at the same time. It was during this career I realized I had the ability to visualize a 7,000-square-foot home inch by inch. I could visually take it off the blueprint and literally see the finished product in my head. I considered this a gift. As a photographer, I have experienced a similar situation. My visual mind can see the photo before I snap and I can anticipate the end result.

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Ron B. Wilson: You’ve traveled quite extensively to so many unique places. Why did you choose those locations and which have been your favorites?

Nancy Savage: My first trip abroad beyond Europe was to China. I was a competitive tennis player as a junior, and it has remained a passion to date. In 2001, I had an opportunity to travel to China to play tennis at the Olympic Training Center and travel the country. This adventure was a two-week journey exploring Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. To this day, the Great Wall is one the most astonishing Wonders of the World I’ve experienced. This would trigger over a dozen more trips to Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia, Israel, India, Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey. The people and cultures draw me in for different reasons. In Asia I would say India, which I have visited three times, without a doubt holds a place in my heart. There is a spiritual nature that permeates this culture. There are traditions and levels of respect that sadly have withered away from many other cultures. My other favorite Country would be Africa. I have visited four different regions including East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. South Africa, Egypt and Southern Ethiopia. The winner in that category is the OMO Valley in Southern Ethiopia. 

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Ron B. Wilson: I particularly love your images from Ethiopia. Can you tell me more about the communities in pictures?

Nancy Savage: My brother and I are six years apart. I recall in my early 20s he returned from a river rafting trip down the OMO River in Ethiopia. Upon his return, he explained in great detail why this was the experience of a lifetime. After joining IG four years ago, I was mesmerized by photos of the OMO Valley Tribes. Making this journey a reality was at the top of my unexplored destinations. After months of organizing and planning this adventure I extended an invitation to my brother and his wife to join me and my husband on this once-in-a-lifetime or in his case twice-in-a-lifetime adventure. We planned and prepped for a journey to the remote areas of the OMO, some bordering the South Sudan. You mentioned communities…actually there are different tribal villages few and far between. The first few days we camped under the stars in the Suri village about 50 km from the South Sudan border. There was no electricity, just a few solar lights that were left out all day to light the way at night. There was no running water other than a nozzle with a hose attached, which had fresh mountain water running intermittently throughout the day. I also noticed a makeshift shower stall with a little water dripping from the ceiling. The Suri people only ate two meals a day. We observed a goat being slaughtered and roasted one evening. Life is very organic. Some crops are grown and small animals can feed a large group of people. They love to paint their faces and bodies…this includes the men, women and children. The materials used are all organic as well. It is most often water mixed with minerals, clay, ground chalk, charcoal and ash. The Suri are extraordinarily artistic. After the body paint they create ornaments from flowers, leaves, branches and fruits. Sometimes you’ll see horns, bones, shells, skins even stainless steel watchbands and soda can pulls. There were several different tribes we visited…each one had customs specific to their tribe.

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Ron B. Wilson: India is by far the most intriguing place I’ve visited in my life. I’ve been three times and want to go again and again. What about you? What was the most amazing place and experience for you in India?

Nancy Savage: India stole a piece of my heart during my first visit in 2013. I traveled Northern India visiting Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Nepal. It was truly a spiritual and enlightening journey. There was extreme poverty, middle class and more affluent all fitting together like a well oiled machine. The people were extremely industrious and educated. This was a very different environment than other poverty stricken countries I’d visited. The Taj Mahal was another Wonder of the World that exceeded expectations. My second visit in 2018 I visited different regions. Udaipur, Jodphur,  Ranthambore National Park and Mumbai, each were fascinating in their own way. In Mumbai I visited the frenzy and chaos of the Dhobi Ghat and unexpected charm of the Dharavi Slum which will forever be etched in my memory. I was expecting, poverty, misery and squalor but it was the unlikely home of a major recycling plant. People of all ages were working hard and contributing to a much needed clean up of their country. I viewed the iconic Lake Pichola, The Blue City of Jodphur and spotted a magnificent Tigress on a game drive. The third visit was to Southern India which was completely different from the North. It was quite beautiful and exempt from the density of people and extreme poverty.

Ron B. Wilson: After India, Cuba was one of my favorite places. How was your observation or lessons learned there?

Nancy Savage: We booked a specialized educational trip to 

Cuba in May 2014 for ten days over Christmas and New Years. Unbeknownst to us, the US announced on Dec. 17, 2014 they were going to open an embassy for the first time in more than 50 years and allow travel from the US. Our trip was literally a week after this announcement so needless to say there were very few tourists. It was surreal rewinding my life back to the 1950s. It was uncanny to experience this time in my life twice. It was as if time stood still. There were remnants of wall murals with Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro. Parts of the country were in a state of disrepair but there was a very consistent energy with the locals, particularly when it came to their music. Latin Jazz, Cha Cha, Salsa even Mambo were thriving and people were dressed in bright colors, hats, high heels and were smoking cigars.

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Ron B. Wilson: I live in Peru part of the year. When did you travel there? What did you like most about the country and culture? Did you enjoy the food?

Nancy Savage: I traveled to Peru in 2012. Started in Lima full of beautiful graffiti and a fairly typical big city. When I arrived in Cusco there were beautiful indigenous people in bright colored traditional clothing. Most of the women wore their hair in long black braids, their faces had sun kissed skin and they wore a variety of hats all significant for different reasons. The Andes were majestic and golden in color. The countryside was breathtaking. As far as the food was concerned it was a gastronomic experience I hadn’t expected. I’m a vegetarian and between the quinoa and thousands of different types of potatoes it was truly a delicious experience. One of their staples was guinea pig. For obvious reasons I avoided.

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Ron B. Wilson: Your Instagram feed is consistently powerful. You make all the right choices on every post. How important is social media to your career? What tips can you share to other creatives to keep their followers engaged?

Nancy Savage: Infatuated with endless phenomenal photographers/photography on IG, I decided to join in 2017. I would study my favorite photographers and set goals for myself. At first it was a daunting experience to post a photo and get ten “likes.” It was a slow and steady process of trial and error to grow the number of followers. I realized that my best results were when I consistently posted interesting photos and always acknowledged comments from followers. So it began. I committed myself to posting twice a day every day, answering all comments. Inch by inch I gained traction. Like anything else you devote the time and you achieve results. The last three years I have grown my followers to over 20,000 and I am grateful for each and every one for their continued support. I have also developed a rapport with what I call my “imaginary friends,” as I explain these people to my non-IG friends. My friend and followers have hugely contributed to my success. I love having a place to share my work with people with similar interests. I have a network of travel consultants if you will. Some of my IG friends have assisted with travel recommendations, etc… It’s a wonderful place for people from all over the world to gather and experience one another as we roam the planet.

Ron B. Wilson: You’ve won several awards in your career. Which ones were most important to you?

Nancy Savage: I think the award that has been the most important was the Nat Geo Daily Dozen in 2013. For the first time I felt like my work was being acknowledged and it propelled and motivated me to keep shooting. I ended up with nine additional Nat Geo Editor’s Favorites. 

Ron B. Wilson: How has the current situation with Covid-19 affected you personally or professionally? How do you think it will change the world and your work going forward?

Nancy Savage: I had planned a trip to visit the Hill Tribes of Vietnam and Laos mid February to mid March. Boom, Covid-19 changed that game plan! I hung in there and didn’t cancel until all hell broke loose in South Korea and I saw a team in hazmat suits spraying down the airport we were passing through on our way to Vietnam. I decided to postpone, then eventually cancel the trip. It was disappointing to say the least but an unpredictable quarantine in South Korea wasn’t worth the risk. Not knowing how this situation will ultimately unfold it is hard to say when international travel will resume. So that in and of itself is a game changer for an international photographer. On the bright side I am safe and healthy and occasionally dust off my camera. Honestly it is so hard to comprehend what travel is going to look like in the near future. At this point I have no international travel plans. I guess time will tell. I know I am running out of IG photos to post so I’ll have to come up with an alternative.

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Ron B. Wilson: Where can people learn more about you and your work?

Nancy Savage: My main platform is Instagram. I do have a website on Smugmug, which includes some of my local photography. IG is more interactive. I devote most of my time and energy displaying my work here where connections are fostered with the international community.

(Many thanks to Nancy for taking the time to work with me on this post! I’m so thankful we are friends now and I look forward to following her career!)

Please follow Nancy on Instagram at:

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