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April 01, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

A love affair with color A love affair with color (April 01, 2005)

How home and abroad inspire photographer Nancy Cole

by Diana Reynolds Roome

On her travels to Europe and Asia as a forensic document examiner, Nancy H. Cole uses her trained eye to detect evidence from what she sees. But during time off from legal matters, her eyes take on a more joyful task as she walks the streets of Prague, Paris or Tokyo with her camera.

The images now being shown at Keeble & Shuchat's upstairs gallery are mostly the result of these travels. But among the most striking are some taken here at home: still-lifes of flowers from her Palo Alto garden and a haunting image of her then 8-year-old son dressed as Pierrot, backstage at the Lucie Stern Center.

Some of the flower images are digitally enhanced to give them a painterly feel, reminiscent of the great Dutch masters or Impressionists. A similar technique is used for "Lamp Post, Prague," lending it an almost-Gothic appearance. Accented by an elegantly crumbling wall in the background, it looks like a venerable guardian of the old city.

Cole, who shoots with both digital and film cameras, enjoys digitally manipulating her images, but prefers to capture a sense of texture and design through her camera lens. "Dauntless Perspective" is an almost abstract take on a wrought-iron gate, which plays tricks on the eyes. "Painted Arches below the Castle, Prague" evokes the almost tangible surfaces and smells of old paint in its bright yet strangely muted interior.

"I'm very much attracted to soft colors and old tones," Cole said. "Subtle color is great fun to play with, rather than high contrast. Though I very much admire good black-and-white photography, I have a love affair with color."

She is also fond of wall paintings, sculptures and arches, and often frames them to include something that emphasizes inherent design qualities or visual wit. Reflections are a major theme, and one photograph cleverly captures an old church reflected in the geometric glass facade of a modern city building, so that you can barely tell which is real and which is a trick of the light.

"I would like to do a whole show on reflections, and I enjoy the juxtaposition of the old with living detail," Cole said, pointing out an image of an archway in Prague with bright pink roses tumbling through it, suggesting an old-fashioned lady's bonnet.

Cole, who has exhibited locally at the Pacific Art League, Stanford University and in several companies' private exhibition spaces, shows few portraits here, but those that appear are striking and make one wish for more. The taut concentration of a sidewalk painter in Vienna imbues the whole photograph with intensity. An image of a juggler in Montpelier, France catches the moment when the central ball comes level with his eye, recording a critical split second of uncompromising focus.

A sense of drama in some of the still lifes and landscapes attests, perhaps, to Cole's background in theater -- she holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's degree from Stanford, both with a focus on dramatic arts.

After training for a legal career while raising three children single-handedly, Cole found herself indirectly led to photography. During a two-year apprenticeship to become a forensic document examiner, she took a course at Foothill College, initially in order to learn how to record documents required for legal evidence. She ended up taking all of the courses available.

"I was hooked," she said. "I love printing color and spent many an hour there."

Later, Cole became part of a group called Shadows and Fog that exhibited locally.

More recently, Cole's travels have given her a unique opportunity to view the world through a lens, whether making a still portrait of a geisha after seeing her dance at a business dinner in Tokyo, or sharing the view of a gargoyle high up on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

"My job is so exacting and left-brained, that after the intense pressure of the work, I need to let my brain go and let the creative stuff ooze out."

What: Photographs by Nancy H. Cole. All prints are for sale.

Where: Keeble & Shuchat (upstairs gallery), 290 California Ave., Palo Alto.

When: Through April 13. Viewing hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free.

Info: Please call (650) 327-8996 or visit

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