Documenting an athletics era: Danny Karnik

Photo by Sara Schmitt

When Danny Karnik got the camera as a gift, he didn’t think much of it.

It was fall 2007, his last autumn as a Tech undergraduate, balancing a demanding Electrical Engineering course load with a social life and a job search. However, he loved sports and decided it would not hurt to take a few pictures. He made his way to the front of the student section, armed with a camera, and clicked away. He was hooked.

“Some of the football players had seen some of my pictures, and they were like, ‘Oh, man, you should go … talk to [the Georgia Tech Athletic Association (GTAA),’ so I went to talk to the Athletic Association, but they said they had people to help them. … They turned me away the first time,” Karnik said.

Undergraduate studies ended, and graduate classes at Tech started, but Karnik kept shooting pictures. His season tickets put him in the front row of the end zone, right next to the student section.

For three years, Karnik documented moment after moment in Tech football history, building a portfolio that grew more impressive by the day. He was ready to make his pitch to the Athletic Association again.

“Eventually, I found the right person to talk to … and showed him my work. They were interested in giving me a shot.”

After more than half a decade in the Bobby Dodd stands, the Fayetteville, Ga., local was ready to cover the Jackets like a professional photographer: from field level. The memories of his first game as a GTAA photographer, working alongside the players themselves, remain strong.

“To be down next to those guys, you know, you’ve obviously had classes with them,” Karnik said. “To see them in their full pads and stuff is sort of intimidating. You can actually hear Coach [Paul Johnson] yelling on the sideline. You just kinda get a different experience down there.

“The first picture I took was the Wreck coming out. To have that … kind of driving straight at you is pretty cool. … I actually have that picture hanging on my wall. It worked out to where it was a good picture where the banner wasn’t stuck to it. … It was perfectly clear, a nice, sunny day,” Karnik said, detailing that first moment photographing the Jackets with credentials.

That picture has its place in Karnik’s memories, as do many others. Ask him about a picture, and he traces it to a moment.

A picture of Tech defensive back Lance Austin returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown against Florida State brings to his mind more than just the shocking Jackets victory.

He remembers switching camera lenses three times during the play, pinning himself against the wall as Austin and his brother ran towards him, hoping all the while that in the midst of the chaos, he would successfully capture the intensity of the moment. Moments later, he did.

“I had to run around and get pictures of what was going on on the field. I didn’t even realize what had happened,” Karnik said with a smile. “I knew we blocked it; I didn’t realize who had blocked it, though, because I hadn’t had time to look back at the pictures.

“ … I saw Adam [Gotsis] was … emotional, so I was like, ‘Oh, maybe Adam blocked it,’ so I was kinda getting some pictures of him. Then I saw Pat[rick Gamble] was kinda emotional, so I got pictures of him too. … It turns out Pat was the one who blocked it,” Karnik said of his thought process during the FSU game.

Tech’s overtime win against Georgia the previous year was Karnik’s best attempt to follow Michael Jordan’s legendary “flu game.” He took pictures while suffering from a fever, ignoring the symptoms as best as he could.

Tech’s Orange Bowl win against Mississippi State in January 2015 led to what he considers his best photo ever, one he can describe without even looking at it. Synjyn Days looks on victoriously atop a platform as fireworks erupt behind him. The perfect ending to an almost perfect season, immortalized.

Walking across the 5th Street bridge as a new year began after a flight home from a bowl game. The businesslike atmosphere on the team plane on the way to games. The jubilance in the Jackets’ locker room after a key win. These images stick with Karnik more than any box score does.

His work spans beyond football. He takes photos for each and every Tech sport sanctioned by the NCAA, from basketball — where Tech’s McCamish Pavilion apparently provides superior lighting than UGA’s Stegeman Coliseum — to volleyball — the hardest to shoot because of its fast-paced action and sometimes difficult camera angles.

He is a familiar face at Jackets athletic events of every type and often keeps in touch with Tech athletes after they leave campus.

“I’ve shot in about 90 venues in 34 cities in 24 states in two countries, and I’ve probably submitted more than 280,000 photos to the Athletic Association,”
Karnik said.

How long does he plan on taking photos for the Athletic Association?

“As long as they’ll let me keep doing it.”