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Nancie Battaglia stands in front of one of her most famous images, printed in publications across the world, showing a gathering of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats in Inlet. Photo: Brian Mann
Nancie Battaglia stands in front of one of her most famous images, printed in publications across the world, showing a gathering of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats in Inlet. Photo: Brian Mann

Battaglia's photographs frame Lake Placid, Adirondacks

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For thirty-five years, Lake Placid photographer Nancie Battaglia has been one of the most prolific freelance photojournalists in America.

Her images in Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and the New York Times shape the way Americans see the Adirondacks and the Olympic village.

Battaglia has a new show this month at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts that includes photographs from history-making Olympic games and quieter images of life in the North Country.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

In the late 70s, Nancie Battaglia was working and studying at Syracuse University, shooting sports and working as a photojournalist for wire services.

Publications like USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and the New York Times have been mainstay clients for Battaglia.  People all over the US and the world get glimpses of the North Country through her photographs. Photo: Brian Mann
Publications like USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and the New York Times have been mainstay clients for Battaglia. People all over the US and the world get glimpses of the North Country through her photographs. Photo: Brian Mann
Up in Lake Placid, the organizing committee for the 1980s Olympics were looking for an official photographer to capture images of the games.

"I was home in January for my sister's wedding and the phone rings and they wanted to know if I would drive up to Lake Placid to talk to them."

Battaglia had a long family history in the Adirondacks, but she'd never really worked here or captured images of this place.

She shows me some of her photographs from her first year here, capturing the buildup to the Winter Games.

"It's snow-making at the ski jumps that was going on 24 hours a day. That's when they were desperate for snow," she recalled.

After the excitement of the Olympics faded, Battaglia says she slowly realized that she wanted to stay.

"I liked it here and wanted to stay here. I liked the lifestyle here, it was a good place."

One Olympic Games, turned into a career

So more than thirty years later Battaglia has a big new show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts – a show called inPrint.

It collects the images that she's published in the decades since that winter, working as an art photographer, a photojournalist and a commercial artist.

But it also sort of captures what it's like to be a working artist here, finding markets, searching out editors that will publish your work.

"I started being the Associated Press stringer, so that of course would get my photos out there. Other newspapers would see my photo credit. So I was lucky."

Lucky – and really, really good. Work for the Associated Press turned into work for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and TV Guide.

It's fair to say that for a lot of people around the world, their mental picture of the Adirondacks came by way of Nancy Battaglia's camera.

"We are looking at a sepia toned image of a single Adirondack chair on a covered dock on a morning when it had been raining and the weather is starting to break up. [That photograph was] used as a fine arts print but it's also on the front page of the New York Times. So that's kind of fun. Many of my photos have been used different ways. Brochures, magazines, cereal boxes — whatever."

Battaglia is a working photographer, which  means that she's constantly on the lookout for markets to sell her images.  That means everything from the New York Times magazine to calendars, jigsaw puzzles and even cereal boxes. Photo: Brian Mann
Battaglia is a working photographer, which means that she's constantly on the lookout for markets to sell her images. That means everything from the New York Times magazine to calendars, jigsaw puzzles and even cereal boxes. Photo: Brian Mann
When Battaglia says cereal boxes, she's not kidding. One of her bobsled pictures turned up on a Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Box.

Maybe her most famous picture – or at least the most often published – is that iconic image of nearly 2000 brightly colored canoes and kayaks rafted up on a lake near the Adirondack town of Inlet.

"It started at Sports Illustrated. It was also in National Geographic, Canoe and Kayak Magazine, Readers Digest, a German magazine called Canoe. It was in a Swedish magazine."

Sports and outdoor photographs, but also the gritty side of Adirondack life

Not all of Battaglia's images are fun or quaint or beautiful. Many capture local history, fragments of everyday life.

One set of Battaglia's pictures shows a bleak winter day – the tangled wreckage of a plane in a grove of trees, a funeral hearse on a dead-end rural road.

"That was an airplane crash that happened in March 1989 and one picture shows the crashed airplane and the other shows the hearse coming out down the long highway road. It's really a March Adirondack day, that dampness when everyone says, 'What are we doing here?'"

There's a lot of Battaglia's work in coffee table books and calendars and glossy Sports Illustrated spreads – but this show also reveals a kind of raw documentary eye that might surprise you, an ability to see the grit and grain of the North Country.

Her specialty has been Olympic sports and some of her images have appeared on the covers of America's biggest magazines, including this photograph in TV Guide. Photo: Brian Mann
Her specialty has been Olympic sports and some of her images have appeared on the covers of America's biggest magazines, including this photograph in TV Guide. Photo: Brian Mann
She says she's lucky to have found a place and a career here in the mountains where she could learn and develop her craft.

Finding work in a digital world

But in the age of the internet, when newspapers and magazines are struggling, she says this work is harder and harder to sustain.

"A lot of markets that were very lucrative are less lucrative than they used to be. The day my show opened, the Chicago Sun Times announced that they were letting go of their whole staff of still photographers, which I think were twenty-three people. That's a pretty scary thing. It's scary for photography in general."

Battaglia competes these days against millions of people with digital cameras and cameras on their cell phones.  What they don't have is that sense of timing, that observer's eye. She shows me an award-winning photograph she took last year at a blessing of the animals in Lake Placid, a picture that appeared in Adirondack Life.

"I just happened to notice this one very cute dog. As I was crawling around, he looked up at me and I snapped the picture and it just happened to be at the same time that the priest in the background was raising his hand and reading the blessing."

You can see that very soulful dog and many more pictures in the slideshow below.  InPrint, Battaglia's show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts continues through June 22.

Slideshow of Nancie Battaglia images:

 

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