"One time we were considering buying a rug
for the house and both of
us said, 'Well, $20.00 is a
lot for a rug. Let's think about it.' The next sentence was, 'I want to buy a new
$1,000 lens.' Both of us immediately thought that was a very good purchase. We had our priorities straight!"

-- Marcy on having a
spouse that understands the demands of photojournalism.

Drop Marcy a line at Marcia.Nighswander@ohio.edu

Interview with Marcia Lanzer Nighswander, associate professor at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication.

What is your professional background?

I graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1973 with a major in photojournalism. My foundation classes in photography were taught by Professor James R. Gordon. He has retired from teaching at BGSU, but still continues to educate all of us as the editor of the National Press Photographer Association's monthly magazine, News Photographer. Prof. Gordon opened my eyes and mind to the visual world around me. Bowling Green had only had a few classes in photography, but they gave me the tools and taught me what it takes to be a photojournalist.

After graduation I worked as the only staff photographer for the Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. It was a great place to start a career. We only had one of anything. One sports reporter, one general assignment reporter, one features writer and one unisex bathroom. Linda Swaisgood, another recent college grad, was the features writer. We had a wonderful time coming up with stories and working together. We maintained that friendship throughout our careers.

The editor of the paper was "Doc" Bordner, a retired army sergeant. The freedom he gave us all to do our jobs made that newspaper a wonderful first job.

After about a year and a half in Fostoria I moved to The Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio. A Knight-Ridder Newspaper where legendary journalist John S. Knight was a presence in the newsroom.

Bill Hunter, chief photographer, hired me as the first woman on the staff of about 10 photographers. During my ten year stint at The Beacon Journal I won the award of Ohio News Photographer of the Year in the Ohio News Photographers Association's annual contest. The year was 1977 and I was the first woman to win the award.

In 1985 my husband, Larry, and I both accepted jobs at
the Cincinnati Post. I was staff photographer and he was
the assistant managing editor for graphics and my direct supervisor. I think we proved to skeptics that husbands
and wives can work together on the same staff.

Marcy Nighswander

Three years later Larry accepted a job offer with the National Geographic Society and against my better judgment we moved to Washington, D.C. I had never wanted to move to a city, but I have learned that sometimes you might resist the directions your life takes you. It all works out better than you could imagine.

Soon after arriving in Washington I was hired by the Associated Press as a staff photographer. I worked at AP with industry legends. Toby Massey was my first boss followed by Bob Daugherty, who is now the director of AP's State Photo Center. I learned how to shoot news from AP photographers that Toby called, "The best of the best."

As I look back over my 22 years as a staff photographer at various publications, I was always the only woman. All the men were supportive coworkers, but I wonder what the workplace would have been like with more diversity.

Since 1995 Larry and I are again working together again at Ohio University. He replaced Chuck Scott as Director of the School of Visual Communication. I was hired as an associate professor placing Ed Pieratt. Did you always want to be a photojournalist?

I grew up in Hamler, Ohio, a village of about 500 residents. In 1969 when I graduated from high school, my options were to be either a secretary, nurse or teacher. These were the only jobs readily open to women. I knew I didn't want to be a teacher. My sister, Lynette, was going to be a nurse. She would make a better nurse than I ever could. My mom was a secretary so that sounded like a possibility. She always encouraged my sister and I to do whatever we wanted in life. My dad showed me by example to try to do everything to perfection. My maternal grandfather always told us to go build bridges. I didn't end up building bridges, but I think he would have been happy with the career I chose.

Bowling Green State University had a secretarial program. My second quarter I got a C in shorthand. The grade wasn't because I didn't know shorthand, but because the professor had a rule that the girls he taught had to wear skirts to class. I wore a a skirt that was like baggy shorts and I thought he wouldn't be able to tell it wasn't a traditional skirt. I was wrong. He lowered my B to a C. I guess in hindsight I should thank him. I searched through the university catalog looking for something more interesting to study. I found photojournalism. It sounded like fun and it certainly has been. I changed my major and my life.

I asked my parents years later what they thought when I changed my major. My mom said she had wondered what I would be doing to make a living. The good thing is she never asked me because at that point I really didn't have any idea about the different directions and locations photojournalism would take me.

How different is it being in the classroom compared to the newsroom?

It is very different. At Associated Press I was surrounded by some of the best photographers and reporters in the business. My work took me to places including The White House, Capital Hill, the State Department to Europe, Asia and South America. On assignments around the world I met, worked and competed with some very talented photographers. I spent very little time in the newsroom.

When we decided to move to Ohio University to teach I knew it would be a change, but I didn't know how much of a change it would be. I had never had a job where I was in one place all day. I got claustrophobia. I had to go for walks around town to see some different scenery. Once I realized the problem I dealt with it, but it took quite a while to get used to a more sedentary lifestyle.

Marcy Nighswander

Classrooms are full of young people. Some don't even know how to load a camera. It was a challenge to go back to basics and try to remember what it was like not to know anything about photography. I had to learn how to verbalize the process of picture taking, putting into words what makes a good picture. For years when I was with other photographers and we saw an outstanding picture we would have a shorthand way of talking and just KNEW the picture was special. Now I am constantly refining my ability to explain a subjective process.

What advice do you give young women coming into the field of photography?

It is the same advice I would give to anyone considering photojournalism as a career. It is very important to get a good foundation in photojournalism. Attending a good photojournalism program makes the process easier. Can you have a career without a degree in photography? Sure, but it will probably take you longer to get where you want to go without the specialized curriculum.

Most importantly marry someone that understands your love of the profession. They might not share the profession but they shouldn't be threatened or jealous of the time it takes and the variety of experiences you will have as a journalist. I have seen so many marriages fail because newspaper photography is not a 9-5 job. Larry and I celebrated our silver anniversary this year. I remember when my parents had their 25th anniversary and I thought they were old. I guess we are too.

We regularly comment to each other what wonderful lives we have had together. He has always been supportive of whatever time or money it takes to do whatever I want to do and I support him. It's been fun. I remember at one time we were considering buying a rug for the house and both of us said, "Well, $20.00 is a lot for a rug. Let's think about it." The next sentence was, "I want to buy a new $1,000 lens." Both of us immediately thought that was a very good purchase. We had our priorities straight!

Do you consider yourself a mentor? teacher? photojournalist? all of the above?

In some way we are all mentors and teachers besides being photojournalists. How many times have photographers helped each other on assignments? Given feedback on their work? Helped a friend get a job? Acted as counselor? One of the things I like about the profession is whenever I meet another professional photographer we were automatically friends because of all the things we have in common. I confess I still have a hard time writing educator in the profession line of forms because I still think of myself as a photographer. Maybe I'll just return to writing photographer.

What was you favorite assignment with the Associated Press?

There were so many over the seven years I worked in Washington it is hard to choose. Many days I would pause and say to myself, "I can't believe they are paying me to do this." It was just so much fun, but that certainly wasn't the case every day! In general it is really a rush to photograph the president of the United States. I traveled all over the world and someone else paid the bills and the overtime. It was physically hard work, but the experience was amazing.

The most physically challenging assignment was a trip to the Middle East for the peace signing in the desert between Jordan and Israel. It was something like six countries in four days. We traveled with President Clinton from Washington to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. These were 20-24 hour workdays. That left little or no time to sleep. Regardless of the sleep deprivation we all commented what a great experience it was because of the interesting countries we visited.

I shot my favorite picture at the presidential debate in Richmond Virginia. It has all
three candidates, Bush, Clinton and Perot talking at the same time. It reinforces the chaos that surrounds a political campaign. The photo was part of the AP's Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1993. I think it ran in USA Today recently. A student in my class asked if he could get extra credit if he had seen the picture published this summer. I said sure I would give him an A.

Marcy Nighswander/ copyright AP

Do you miss the high pace of DC?

We have been in Athens for five years. When we go back to DC it is fun to be in the city again, but I don't miss the traffic and the stressful environment. In Athens Larry and I had to get used to people we didn't know waving at us. Someone would drive by and wave and we would look at each other and say, "Do you know that guy?" We finally got used to that and wave at everyone too. Every once in a while when there is a big story in DC, I get a little jealous that I'm not there. Or I might see people I used to work with in the "well" in a hearing room and I miss the action. But, I know teaching was the right decision at the right time in our lives. It is good I miss shooting because if I didn't I might not be an enthusiastic about the profession when I teach. When I meet people who want to teach because they are professionally frustrated I really don't understand their motivation. I wouldn't want someone teaching students that didn't have the same excitement about photography as the students do.

Are you seeing more influence of women in our field?

Definitely. More women are rising through the ranks at publications and taking charge of photo departments. More than half the students in VisCom are women. I think that has changed steadily over the years.

Where do you see newspaper photography heading?

Newspaper's usage of photography has improved so much over the years. When I started in the profession photographers could count on one hand the newspapers that respected photography and saw it as an important way to communicate information. Picture pages were rare and feature stories where the photographer and reporter worked to put a package together were even rarer.

I judged the National Press Photographers Association/University of Missouri Pictures of the Year Picture Editing categories last year. I was surprised at the number of story and picture packages that were shot during the year. It was very impressive but I still see room for improvement. I saw newspapers move from the traditional picture page to presentation of words and pictures working together to tell the story.

The bigger question is whether newspapers will be around in 20 years. Maybe not. The best publication of pictures might be on the Web. Publishing is changing rapidly. It is important photographers embrace the new technology and become a part of the group of people that decide how their work is going to be used and displayed in the future.

What advice would you give someone who wants to shoot for the wires? Be sure the photographer understands the lows can be pretty low, but the highs are as rewarding as the profession can get. They may be standing on a sidewalk for hours waiting to photograph someone and in one split second they get a picture that is run on the front of newspapers around the world. It was always exhilarating to see newspapers on a newsstand with only the picture I shot as the lead. AP and other wire services are making more room for essays and picture projects. I know AP has been for years. Digital technology makes the quick transmission of pictures much easier to get.

How important is an education in photojournalism in the newspaper field today?

Most newspapers require a college degree. I hope it is important or I'm wasting my time teaching. After teaching for five years it is rewarding to hear from graduates. I get notes, and email, from former students telling me of their latest projects and thanking the VisCom faculty for their education. I guess I am making a difference in their lives.

What would you still like to do with your career?

I never would have imagined I would
travel and do what I have done in my life. Seeing the things I have seen and photographing the history I have witnessed.

Life has it's twists and turns and they all seem to be for the better. I have never planned a certain path this far so I'll just
see what opportunities might come up.

Marcy Nighswander

Photography is multifaceted field and I am still learning. I have a Holga, a simple plastic camera that shoots 120 film. I am using it to photograph Washington, DC and the road by our house. That has been challenging and fun because it forced me back into the darkroom. A Nikon Coolpix 950 and an article enticed me to explore using the digital camera to take infrared pictures. I have an Epson 2000P printer. So while I still cherish working in the darkroom I am also exploring the range of new technology. Larry and I travel to a National Park or two each summer to take landscape pictures. After doing this for several years we are starting the get a pretty good collection.

So, I guess I am bouncing back and forth between old and new technology, but no matter what the means of delivery it is still thrill to have a life that continues to focus on photography.