Nancy Borowick '07 was an organizing theme major (combining photography, women’s studies, anthropology and modern languages) at Union College. She went on to earn a one-year certificate from the International Center for Photography in documentary photography and photojournalism. Now an award-winning documentary photographer, author, speaker and teacher, she freelances mainly for the New York Times. She has also worked for and published her work with outlets such as National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Time Magazine and O, the Oprah magazine. Nancy has volunteered as a photographer for a variety of organizations dear to her heart, including the Touch A Life Foundation (working with trafficked children in Ghana), Charity Water, the Taproot Foundation, Guam Animals in Need, The Haya Foundation and The Ghana on Tap Project. The last Nancy created – it raised $10,000 to build a borehole well in a local village where she was a teacher. Nancy was a 2019 Kickstarter Thought Leader and serves on the trustee board at the International Center of Photography, representing the alumni community. Also in 2019, she became a Sony Artisan of Imagery. As for hobbies, she doesn’t have many at the moment. As a new mom, she spends most of her non-working time at home with her baby son, Levi. Nancy is married to Kyle Grimm ’08.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
Photojournalism is such a powerful tool, especially in our world today. Being able to use my photography to tell important stories, create social awareness about issues and amplify the voices of those whose aren’t being heard is an unbelievable honor, and responsibility. Every path has its challenges and on mine, there was a lot of personal sacrifice made to get my foot in the door as a professional photographer and prove to editors, and myself, that I could succeed in this field. As a freelancer, you are a one-woman-show. You have to channel your inner businesswoman and hustler and believe in yourself – even if others don’t. In my most recent long-term body of work about my parents’ parallel diagnoses and treatments with terminal cancers, I never imagined my personal journal would become anything more than just that. Once the New York Times shared our story internationally, I could never have imagined the outpouring of support from every corner of the world. People engaged with my story and shared their own, thanking us for being so candid and vulnerable. Photography allowed me to turn my pain into power and purpose. Through sharing the images and our experiences, I’ve been able to help others traversing their challenges. What could be better and more fulfilling than that? I feel very lucky to be able to have a career doing what I love and care about, and now being the mother of a four-month-old, I hope to be able to find to some balance and compromise wearing these many hats.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, my friend and mentor, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, inspires me. She has devoted decades of her life to telling stories of child marriage around the world and using her photography, and her passion, to end the practice. She started a foundation called Too Young To Wed, which is doing just that. Her drive, heart, compassion and empathy to help others is just a part of the fabric of who she is. Personally, I am deeply inspired by my late mother, Laurel. She was a brave and resilient human being, a generous and thoughtful friend and a loving and amazing mother. She selflessly gave up her career to raise her three children and we were so lucky to have a mother like her. She lived with breast cancer on and off for 18 years, treating it like another thing on her to-do list, and reminding us how lucky we were to have each and every day. I try not to lose sight of that perspective in my life today.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
One of the greatest pieces of advice a friend once gave me was that “it is always a no if you don’t ask, if you don’t try, and if you don’t take a risk.” Women, myself included, seem to have a habit of second-guessing or undervaluing ourselves in a way that our male counterparts do not. We need to stop doing this! We need to know our worth and believe in ourselves a little more! Cultivate community that will love, support, challenge and lift you up. And when you are faced with a hurdle that intimidates you, as I was with my parents’ illnesses, try to lean in because as Robert Frost once wisely wrote, “the best way out is always through.”
What was your most formative experience at Union?
I think my most formative experience at Union was actually when I had the opportunity to study abroad. During my junior year, I participated in a mini-term in Argentina and then a full term in Barbados. Those experiences really shaped the lens through which I see the world today, from living in and becoming part of a new community to learning the language, the culture, and the history of the places I temporarily called home. So much of my life now is shaped by my travel then, and both of those terms abroad very much inform the kind of work I do now with my photography and journalism.