Professional photographers enjoy connections from their college days
When you’re watching the next Green Bay Packers game, take a closer look at the sidelines. You’ll see another little friendly competition occurring — perhaps just as entertaining — among the game-day photographers.
Although not a football fan, Professor Emeritus Gary MacDonald likes to tune into the games to see if he can spot a former UW-La Crosse photography student. He trained many over the years who’ve gone on to capture not only Packer games but also Super Bowls, Olympic competitions, open heart surgeries and news for USA TODAY.
A network of UWL photography alumni still keeps in touch to share advice and memories. Some call up MacDonald, nicknamed “Pops,” to share coffee or a joke.
MacDonald and Professor Emeritus Roger Grant make up most of UWL alumnus John Maniaci’s strongest UWL memories.
“They worked great together,” he explains. “UWL was known as a great school to learn photography and there are dozens of professional photographers across the Midwest who came through UWL. It was because of them — they were great educators and friends.”
Maniaci, ‘92, still recalls the moment his sophomore year when MacDonald leaned over a photo still wet with chemicals in the dark room. He suggested Maniaci consider a professional career in photography.
“The light switched on. From that moment on, that’s what I decided I wanted to do,” says Maniaci. “With his help and the help of others who were mentors, I was able to do that.”
Today Maniaci works for UW Health in Madison, after a nearly 30-year career in photography including 12 years at the Wisconsin State Journal. His career has taken him all over the country — covering the Rose Bowl and the Final Four. Today he tells the story of lung, heart and kidney transplant recipients and babies born prematurely — all through photos.
Here is just one of the health stories he has told through images.
Alumnus Greg Anderson isn’t far away from Maniaci, taking photos at Wisconsin’s state capitol.
Anderson, ’84, knew he wanted to be a photographer since he was a kid admiring pictures in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Life magazine. He saw how photographers could carry all of the emotion of war or birth or death through just a single snapshot. Those photos could leave him and his parents staring at the magazine pages in awe or horror, depending on the topic. He too wanted to go places and show the rest of the world what it was like.
UWL was the place to go for photography training, he says. “I was not disappointed,” he adds. “The program was extensive and I enjoyed all of my classes. Edward Bardill was also an influential instructor for me.”
Today Anderson has a 35-year career in photography, including photographing sports for UW-Madison, aerial photos for the DNR, 3D art for the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, and now countless legislative sessions and speakers at the state capitol as the state’s legislative photographer.
He even captured two of UWL’s leaders — Chancellor Joe Gow and Vice Chancellor Bob Hetzel — during a recent State Building Commission meeting in Madison.
But, one his favorite moments to document was done outside of work — an hour after his daughter was born. “It’s the first and last time she held my hand,” he jokes.
One of Maniaci’s most memorable photos was a 2006 Wisconsin Badgers hockey game against Boston College for the NCAA Championship. The score was 1:1. He and other photographers lined the rink. They followed every pass, holding their breath and staying focused — literally — as they eagerly awaited a moment of celebration or defeat. Then, the Badgers scored a goal.
Maniaci, with camera ready, caught the winning shot and the emotional team celebrating the victory. That photo eventually became a large print that was hung at the UW Madison athletic department offices — becoming a part of history and the UW story.
“The best photos don’t need a cutline,” says Maniaci. “You can look at the photo and see the thrill of their victory or the defeat in their eyes.”
In a world where photography has transformed from dipping prints in a dark room to clicking a button in Photoshop, Maniaci and Anderson agree their photography training at UWL — albeit in a dark room — was well worth it.
“Everything I learned at La Crosse is as important now as it was then,” explains Maniaci. “What I learned at UWL was how to see a photo … The camera itself is the least important part of it.”
Composition is everything — and that is timeless, agrees Anderson.
MacDonald says that lesson — that students make the photos and not the camera — was one of the greatest things he hoped to instill in his students.
They maybe left UWL with a stronger sense of who they were as artists, adds Grant.
“They all had a sense of vision and artistic ability, but they may not have known what it was at the time or how to access it,” says Grant. “By going through various courses, they defined themselves and their vision of how they see the world and communicate it through photography.”
MacDonald would often have upperclassman helping greener photography students on a variety of assignments, hoping students would learn to mentor one another and work together. He also hoped that spirit would continue after UWL. With some 20 photographers standing at the sidelines of a Packers game, that’s a skill they need to figure out, he adds.
It appears they did.
“I call them all the time for advice or to say great shot,” says Maniaci, referring to a group of about a dozen former classmates and other UWL alumni. “We definitely have this huge UWL network that is flourishing. The program gave us the training to have the careers we wanted. And here we are years later still doing it. “
Learn more about John Maniaci’s photography
Learn more about Greg Anderson’s photography
UWL’s campus photographer, Mike Lieurance, ’02, is also a UWL alumnus. Check out some of his amazing work at www.uwlax.edu/photos