Ask Vance: Nadia Price – Memphis Magazine | Episode Movies

Dear Vance, I’ve noticed that old school yearbooks often had ads for “Photograph of Nadia.” Who was Nadia and what happened to her business? —PK, Memphis.

Dear PK: Oh I wish I had hired Nadia to photograph the various members of my family before they were taken to prison. The mug shots would have completed Lauderdale’s scrapbooks and given me the opportunity to meet a most remarkable woman – one of our area’s most talented photographers and artists and a person who seemed to be quite a personality.

After all, this was a lady who once told a reporter, “A photographer is the only person who can shoot someone, frame them, hang them and be thanked and paid for it.”

Nadia Price was born in Memphis in 1919 to Olive and Raymond R. Price, who owned Southern Motors, the largest Cadillac dealership in the MidSouth. First things first: she pronounced her unusual first name (a Russian word that means “hope”) with a long A: NAY-dia.

She was the older sister of Billy Price, who (perhaps better known as Billy Price Carroll) became one of the city’s most celebrated painters. The family lived in Hein Park and later moved into a bungalow on Central and I suppose Nadia had a pretty good life growing up. Photo albums and scrapbooks lovingly kept by her niece “Pixie” Woodall contain pictures of Nadia and Billy sitting in fancy cars, riding horses and taking trips to various camps in our area.

Both sisters attended the Memphis Academy of Arts, with Billy studying painting and Nadia taking classes in sculpture and drawing. When she was 16, her father gave her an old Speed ​​Graphic press camera, and she told reporters, “Of course I photographed everything I could get on film. My favorite shots were human interest photographs. That’s how my collection started.”

She took photos and also began to improve her sculpting and painting skills while attending Miss Hutchison’s School. She graduated from there in 1937 and began a $12-a-week internship with a local commercial photographer named Avery N. Stratton, where she first learned the skills of film processing, printing, and retouching.

Nadia liked to say, “God was good to that chick,” and she hoped others would benefit from life as much as she did. Her goal was simple: “I hope my photographs will inspire people to love one another.”

Nadia probably would have stayed at that job, but when World War II started — for my younger readers, that was December 7, 1941 — she enrolled in a drawing school (I don’t know exactly where that was) and started working as a the first – and probably only – female draftsman (or should I say draftsman?) for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

She was fond of saying that her life “came in thirteen years,” and indeed she was employed by Stratton for 13 months, worked for the Army for 13 months, and then accepted an assignment that lasted – yes – 13 months as a photographer at the Fisher Aircraft Works , a former General Motors body shop in North Memphis that had been converted to manufacture parts for B-25 bombers. Working in a man’s world, she photographed the production lines, made ID tags for workers, and performed other duties, once again making the news as possibly the only female photographer for the Army – and General Motors – by the end of the war.

In 1946 she teamed up with another photographer, Caroline Jenkins, and opened a studio in the basement of an old house in Union. They called the business “Photography by Nadia” and initially their specialty was children’s portraits, but soon expanded to include all types of photography: commercial, architectural, family portraits, camp meetings, church groups, weddings – even insurance claims. By 1949, the two women were doing so well that they opened their own studio in a corner of the old Baggott Sheet Metal Works at 187 South Cooper.

With her distinctive touch, Nadia transformed this corner of the busy building into a striking art deco style studio complete with pink neon lighting and a second floor apartment. She apparently had a particular talent for working with troubled children, even putting her small dog on a platform next to the camera to get their attention. Jenkins left the partnership after a few years and Nadia continued on her own. It was quite a success, with such demand that clients often had to book her services up to a year in advance, and one client told a reporter, “No one seemed to have a wedding photo in the paper unless it said so : ‘Photograph by Nadia.’”

One of the few women in Memphis known only by her first name, Nadia caught the attention of the Downtown Association of Memphis, who named her one of the “Five Distinguished Women Working” in 1966. One newspaper reporter remarked, “Capturing the essence of Nadia would be like catching water in a strainer.” In addition to her photography, in her free time she worked on incredibly detailed drawings and paintings of plants and flowers, illustrated cartoons, and animal sculptures (usually horses, her favourite) in ceramic and bronze. At one point she even painted hand-painted scarves that were sold in Memphis department stores and produced a series of postcards depicting scenes from Arkansas.

Why Arkansas? Well, at age 52, she met William Bates, a sales manager for Republic Steel, and they married in 1971 and moved to the Bates family farm near Quitman, Arkansas. There they lived in what Nadia called her “Bouse” – a custom-built combination of house and barn. She closed her popular photo shop in Cooper-Young, but continued to photograph everything that suited her. By the time she officially retired in 1974, it was estimated that she had photographed more than 50 weddings a year (sometimes two in a day) and filed more than 100,000 negatives.

Bates died in 1982. Nadia still lived in Arkansas and spent time in Heber Springs, where she met Oscar Strid, a retired railroad manager. They married in 1985 and moved into a beautiful home on Greer’s Ferry Lake. But it wasn’t a kind of retirement where you sit by the lake and fish. They bought a 35-foot Airstream trailer and roamed the country, visiting almost every state and Canada, until Oscar died in 1995.

Eventually, when her health began to deteriorate, Nadia returned to Memphis in 2005 and moved into an apartment and studio out back in Central Gardens where her niece “Pixie” lived with her husband Richard Woodall. Still painting and sculpting, she passed away at home on September 27, 2013 at the age of 94.

More than 600 of her images, which captured African American life in that region, along with some of her cameras and equipment, were donated to Arkansas State University as part of an exhibit titled “A Delta Era Gone By.” Another large group of her photographs now comprises the Nadia Price Collection at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

“Photos of Nadia were coveted and treasured,” her niece recalls. “With one camera in front of her eye and the other slung over her shoulder, Nadia flitted through a crowded room, capturing every possible angle and expression. The result was wonderful memories for those who were her subjects.”

Nadia liked to say, “God was good to that chick,” and she hoped others would benefit from life as much as she did. Her goal was simple: “I hope my photographs will inspire people to love one another.”

In a letter to friends and family after her aunt’s death, Pixie said of Nadia, “She was a pioneer. She was not intimidated by challenges and never said no to anything that came her way in life. She took advantage of every moment. If she wanted something done, nothing and no one could stand in her way. She was bold yet gentle. Wiry yet feminine. … She really wanted everyone to love each other. So she spent her life showing them how to do it.”

Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.

Have a question for Vance?

E-mail: askvance@memphismagazine.com

Post: Vance Lauderdale, memphis Magazine, PO Box 1738, Memphis, TN 38101

Or visit him on Facebook.

Leave a Comment