Gary N’Ski-Lodi’s Photographer

by Free Speech on January 16, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

By Carole Roche

Gary N’Ski, an award-winning photographer whose early travel adventures helped form his photographic vision, remembers clearly the day he found his life’s work. “I had started college as an education major at UW-La Crosse, and during my sophomore year took an elective course in photography.” said  N’Ski. “I immediately became entranced with the magic of the photographic process, and knew that I wanted to learn more. I also knew that teaching children the ABC’s would no longer be in my future.”

Switching his major to mass communications, N’Ski soon found himself working for the college newspaper. Responsible for finding and editing student images for the paper, N’Ski eventually became the college yearbook photographer, and was offered the position of photography co-ordinator for the department. “I was given the opportunity to learn in a working environment, and I focused my efforts on improving my photographic skills,” said N’Ski.  It was the beginning of a lifelong quest.”

Ultimately, N’Ski’s desire to learn his art in a freer, less structured environment would lead him at the end of his Junior year to continue his education in a different mode – an odyssey of the West.  Traveling in a re-furbished Cook County Illinois van, N’Ski motored thru the  states of Colorado, Utah, and Idaho, stopping frequently to take pictures. His wanderings eventually led him to Whitefish, Montana where he decided to stay. “I rented a cabin in Whitefish, and freelanced as a photographer for the local papers nearby, including papers at Kalispell and Missoula,” said N’Ski. ” “In 1979, I was  hired by a Fine Arts School in Whitefish to teach basic photography and darkroom, and I taught there for  several years.”

Gary N-Ski has been photographing life in Lodi Valley for mare than a decade.

Gary N-Ski has been photographing life in Lodi Valley for mare than a decade.

Yet, N’Ski’s wanderlust had not quite come to an end, and over the next fifteen years, he availed himself of a number of opportunities to advance his photographic skills. ” In 1981, I was offered a a six-month contract from the University of Alaska Rural Education Center to teach photography in Upik Eskimo villages, and, when that ended, I freelanced as a photographer in Anchorage, ” said N’Ski.  “There were so many photographic opportunities in Anchorage that I was thinking about staying permanently.  And then came my High School reunion.”

Returning to Wisconsin to attend his class reunion in the Fall of 1982, N’Ski had no way of knowing that the event would be life-changing; his future wife was also in attendance.  “We had gone to school together from Kindergarten from Kindergarten through High School and had a lot of catching up to do, ” said N’Ski. Although I did return to Alaska after the reunion, Debbie and I  kept in touch thru letters and phone calls and, on New Year’s Eve 1984, we proposed to each other.  It was the beginning of a new period of exploration.”

The couple were married in 1984, rented an apartment on Madison’s east side for a year, then moved into a remodeled farmhouse on 107 acres near Token Creek. In 1991, the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, was born and the family purchased a small farm outside Lodi in the Spring of 1992.  “My wife always loved horses, and now she has ten of them, and runs a 4-H program for children,” said N’Ski. “We both love it here.”

N’Ski also formed his own business, the Good Ideas Company which manufactured and distributed toys and novelties to retails stores. He attended trade shows throughout the country. “Still, I never lost interest in photography or stopped taking pictures, including photographs of every product I sold. Eventually, there were over 1400, and the company was successful. ”

Still, N’Ski lamented his lessened involvement with photography, and by mid-1998, began to seek other venues for his photographic work. He found that venue while perusing the Lodi Enterprise classifieds. “In the Fall of 1999, the Enterprise was looking for a freelance photographer, and I dusted off my portfolio and applied for the job, “said N’Ski.  “They offered me a first-time stringer position, and I went into photography full-time, opening Spring Creek Photoworks by the end of the year.”

N’Ski describes his work with the newspaper as photojournalism – telling a story about the Lodi community and its people with every picture he takes. “I like working in a small town venue – taking pictures of that make up the everyday life of Lodi citizens,” said N’Ski. “My goal is to take images that accurately portray life in a small town which compels the viewer to look. That is the ultimate challenge.”

N’Ski no longer develops his images in a darkroom, and has become a devotee of the digital format. “I can do everything with a digital image that  I used to do in the darkroom including cropping, enlarging, and light correction, ” said N’Ski. “The big difference between the two is the hands-on involvement with the negative in the darkroom.  With digital, there is no negative to work with, and I sometimes miss that.”

“N’Ski’s commitment to his adopted community is strong as evidenced by a March photography project at Lodi Elementary School.  Called the Pinhole Camera Project, N’Ski, along with the children’s teacher, helped 3d and 4th graders make simple cameras out of oatmeal boxes. “The kids made the cameras themselves and used them to take pictures of people and places all over Lodi,” said N’Ski. They developed them in the school’s dark room, and the school selected over ninety pictures for an  open house at the school . “It was a fun learning experience – both for the kids and for  myself.”

In addition to the weddings, portraits, and product shoots he is hired for on a regular basis,  N’Ski also finds time to work with Arts Tribe, a group of mixed-media artists whose work has been shown at the Overture Center; N’Ski is one of the founding members. “Arts Tribe currently has eight members, all working in different media including sculpting, stained glass, mosaic, painting, fabric, and photography,” said N’Ski. “In the Spring of 2007, we did a combined show with the Madison Symphony and the Overture Center where we created visual interpretations of an opera by Carl Orff called ‘Carmina  Burana.’   In May, we have a show scheduled at the Pyle Center, and, we are collaboration with the Farmers Market to produce art works based on sustainable agriculture.

While it is clear that N’Ski enjoys his work and has no regrets about his career choice, he does have one cautionary note for aspiring freelancers. “It’s not easy to make a living as a freelancer, and perhaps even more difficult now that when I started thirty-four years ago,” noted N’Ski. “This is at least in part due to newspapers expecting reporters to not only write but take pictures too. In reality, there are very few people who can do do both well.”

The trend has resulted in fewer freelance photography positions for specialists, and, according to N’Ski, is a ‘prescription for photographic mediocrity.’ “Newspapers are attempting to save money by combining the writer/photographer position, however, the result is less quality images. News venues want to save money, but if they continue to be unwilling to invest in their product – good writing and good photography – eventually they will have nothing to sell.”

And, that would be an incredible loss for those who appreciate quality photojournalism.  Perhaps Peg Zaemisch, former editor of Enterprise, summarized what his work best. “Gary N’Ski has a great eye, and a vivid imagination, but most importantly, he is shooting from some place deep in his heart.  The great expressions he has captured of young and old Lodians will document and validate the best in small town living.”

NOTE: Gary N’Ski can be contacted at 608-592-5925 or by email at The Spring Creek Photoworks Gallery is located at  141 Lodi Street in Lodi. N’Ski’s work can be viewed online at

(Editor’s note: this story was originally submitted to the Lodi Enterprise. It was not published by the Enterprise.)

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Doug February 3, 2009 at 5:06 PM

Despite having a few “long lens issues”(private joke), Gary is one of the very best at capturing the essence of his subjects and Lodi is very lucky to have someone that good at what he does and that involved in his community. If you don’t think so, go try to do what he does.

2 lyl January 30, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Poor local and file photographs have eroded the ‘local’ in the local Enterprise. The one thing I always looked forward to was how N-ski captured the heartbeat of Lodi in his many images. When Peg Z. was here, at least the paper was relevant because she used Gary’s pics and wrote about the soul of Lodi. No more. Too sad.

3 sawdust January 29, 2009 at 5:51 PM

I would say that calling the Enterprise “mediocre” would be a gift. It is poorly written, is getting both thinner and more expensive simultaneously. Outside of browsing the front page at the checkout, I haven’t read it in a year and a half. Too bad it’s not really a “local” paper any longer.

4 sundayslady January 29, 2009 at 2:38 PM

To answer shooter above, it was because he said that sending writers to do photography created mediocrity, which is what the Lodi Enterprise has become. The photos have been awful since Gary hasn’t been doing them.

5 Shooter January 22, 2009 at 4:00 PM

What was the real reason this article wasn’t published

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