[image-1] We received the sad news yesterday that on Tues. May 15, Nancy Santos, City Paper’s former staff photographer, passed away. She was 58.

Santos worked at the paper from May 2000 until October 2006. And like every CP photographer, Santos’ assignment were as varied as the stories we told, but she became well respected for her beautiful photo essays including her 2004 “A Gullah Tale.” The essay documented the Gullah/Geechee community’s cultural heritage in stunning images like that of Eugene Seabrook shrimping on the Folly River and Ce Ce Williams hand-knitting a shrimp casting, and showcased her knack for disarming her subjects, a quality that became a hallmark of her work.

“Nancy was this bundle of talent. She upped the game and she stamped the paper with her eye,” remembers former CP editor Stephanie Barna who adds that Santos had a natural aptitude for putting her subjects at ease. “She was so good at connecting with people.” CP even created a darkroom to allow Santos to do her work. “We limited ourselves to one bathroom so she could have a dark room because she was so good at processing. She would bring out her first contacts and keep manipulating her art.” 

[image-2]One of Santos best friends was Andrea Haseley, CP‘s original Art Director. Haseley just spent this April living with Santos while visiting Charleston, so we asked her to share a few words about her dear friend:

After leaving the Charleston City Paper as the founding Art Director (and the paper’s studio photographer) in 1999, I pursued my graphic design freelance career. Since the paper took off like wildfire, Noel, Blair, and Stephanie were in need for more talented people — especially a full-time photographer — and that’s when they hired Nancy Santos. As soon as I met her we instantly became friends. We had so much in common. I lived in Park Circle and Nancy said she wanted to leave downtown and move out to North Charleston. I immediately started to look for “for sale” signs and before I knew it she bought a house there. Since she only lived one street away we were now neighbors.

Nancy moved to Park Circle with her curly haired daughter Catherine, who stole my heart the first time I met her. Catherine was a spunky kid with an imagination beyond her years. Nancy recognized her creative energy and encouraged Catherine to apply to the North Charleston School of the Arts. Catherine was accepted to SOA and Nancy was so proud of her daughter and so happy she was on a path to maybe one day have a career in the arts like herself. Catherine then attended and graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design and now resides in Seattle, Wash.

Nancy was a gifted photographer. I hired her for professional photography for some of my clients. She took pictures for Spoleto USA, Family Circle Cup (now the Volvo Cup), Charleston Day School, Madra Rua, Vickerys Bar & Grill and Gene’s Haufbrau. It was a blast to work with Nancy. She made my job so much easier by providing spectacular pictures.

Nancy traveled a lot by herself and with her photog friend Ron Ross. One of Nancy’s trips was to Romania where she captured the stark countryside and gypsy culture. One of my favorite shots was “The Lady of Perpetual Laundry,” of a wrinkled-faced, elderly woman praying over her laundry she had just washed. The gypsy woman prayed with clasped hands, hoping that her laundry would be clean.

Nancy and I went to Burning Man in 2002. We got the courage to attend this crazy art festival in the middle of a pre-historic lake bed in the Nevada desert. We both wanted to see the art, sculptures, and art cars. When Stephanie Barna heard we were going, she asked Nancy to take a lot of photos so the City Paper could publish another one of Nancy’s photo essays. Nancy shot a lot of film — yes film. No digital camera back then. When we got back home Stephanie looked at the contact sheet and realized a lot of the photos could not be printed due to nudity and sexual content. Only those who have been to Burning Man know what I am talking about. Nancy and I stuck out like sore thumbs at Burning Man. Almost everyone there was naked or close to it. But not us S.C. girls! We tried to blend in with mis-matched clothes and goofy hats. It was pathetic but we were in it together. One of our biggest thrills was riding the cuddle fish art car and walking through the Pink Pussy Palace which had one-way mirrors. So many times we looked at each other and said “did you just SEE THAT?”

I can continue with many more stories and fond memories. But what I’d really like to say is those who knew Nancy were very fortunate. Our lives were touched graciously by this tiny, Irish, beautiful, blue-eyed, blonde woman who took amazing photographs, had a zesty sense of humor and loved a cup of tea. However, I can say this, she was not the BEST driver!

Cheers to Santos! Long live my beautiful friend forever in my heart.

There is no memorial planned at this time.