Q & A with Photographer Nancie Battaglia
by Elizabeth Folwell
Adirondack Life readers have enjoyed Nancie Battaglia‘s photographs since the January/February 1986 issue. She has hiked, paddled, cross-country skied and explored just about everywhere in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, shooting under blue skies, in mountaintop clouds, during blizzards and downpours, and at sporting events. Documenting spectacular performances, natural disasters or the pleasures of wilderness recreation she has captured this place with great insight and consummate skill. Conjure up an image of a triumphant World Cup skier, a flag-draped Team USA hockey player or bobsled hurling down an icy track and chances are that Nancie supplied the original for the scene that’s etched in our global memories.
From now through June 22 you can visit inPRINT, a solo exhibition that portrays the depth and breadth of her Adirondack life behind the lens at Lake Placid Center for the Arts. The show is a “must see” according to the June 4 blog on Lake Placid.com. Gallery hours are 1–5 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday.
If you are expecting a static array of framed works, think again. The walls are filled with calendar landscapes, magazine spreads and wire-service prints from a time when 35mm film ruled the visual media. There are books, puzzles, posters, brochures and even a cereal box among the artifacts on display.
We asked Nancie to share some stories about the photos that resonate with audiences all over the planet. I’ve known Nancie since 1981 and still marvel at her way of picturing the world, how she frames a situation or setting that goes far beyond documentation.
As background, she explains, “I’m from Geneseo, in the Genesee Valley of western New York. I graduated from Syracuse University and went to the Newhouse School of Journalism for grad school, earning my ABT (all but thesis).”
Q. What brought you to the Adirondacks?
A. I moved to Lake Placid in January 1978, when I was hired as the chief still photographer for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. I worked for the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee documenting all things leading up to the games: construction, grips-n-grins, sports, aerials, features, portraits, whatever!
Q. For sports photographers there must have been many other options in the early 1980s. Why did you stay in Lake Placid?
A. I do more than sports and had made many good media connections while working the Olympics and pre-Olympics. Many publications and the wire services that I had done some work for were still contacting me for assignments like features, news and sports so I was able to freelance. And we (my husband, Ed Finnerty, and I) like the lifestyle here. It’s a tough place to leave and a beautiful place to live.
Q. Is there one photo that makes you certain you were in the right place at the right time?
A. The pet blessing double-page spread that was published in the October 2011 issue of Adirondack Life; Newton the Great Dane is staring right at the camera. Also the One Square Mile of Hope photos on September 24, 2011, looked pretty good while I was shooting from a small plane over Fourth Lake. They turned out to be very well received. Feedback has been very positive, and the image has had quite a journey and a life of its own. I thought it was quieting down at the end of 2012, but it sprang to life again this spring. One Square Mile appeared in Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Canoe & Kayak, Sierra magazine, Reader’s Digest, Kanu magazine in Germany, Paddling magazine in Sweden, Digital Camera Magazine in the UK, and quite a few international, national, and local newspapers. I’ve found it many places but may have missed some too! It also had an amazing web presence, viral!
Q. You have been shooting under all kinds of weather conditions and from boats, planes and helicopters. Have there been times when you felt getting photos might be risky?
A. Sure. When a slalom skier missed me by inches, and when my head was skimmed by a hockey puck when I was shooting women’s hockey from the penalty box. Cold weather below zero with double-digit-minus wind chill sometimes makes me wonder what I am doing out there too!
Q. In your career, photo technology has moved from black-and-white film and color transparencies to digital files. When you were submitting film for New York Times articles, how did sending images work? When did you make the transition to digital and why?
A. Sometimes I shot the photos, processed the film, then printed in my basement darkroom, and transmitted the photos with a good ol’ fashioned transmitter (similar to a fax machine). Other times I would take copious notes and ship the raw film in envelopes with all the notes and caption material. The editors there would figure it out.
I went digital in the early 2000s. It was April, generally a slow month, and I had two calls in one day from clients saying it had to be digital. One was the New York Times and the other was St. Lawrence University. Both are good clients so I swallowed hard and took the jump. It still took a few years for me to stop fighting it and accept that most editors no longer want to deal with film. The image quality in the early years of digital was pretty shaky, but that has greatly improved over the years. Now I am a believer.
Q. In this exhibition at Lake Placid Center for the Arts is there a favorite image or section?
A. I have lots of “favorites” and putting the show together sure brought back memories. And it seems from the viewing audience that people are picking their own favorites. We are what we do: those photos are “me.”
Q. Do you always travel with your cameras and lenses?
A. Yes, cameras are always with me. You never know when you might see a moose!