There aren’t many more tributes that can be applied to the stunning sports photography career of Sports Illustrated legend Walter Iooss Jr. beyond the fact that his work continues to be examined and displayed, even away from the splashy elite gallery world, with plenty of appropriate acclaim.
A small exhibit of his baseball photography continues through Jan. 7 at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta, and as critic Jon Ciliberto of ArtsATL writes, there are still many new ways of seeing Iooss’ subjects through fresh, breathtaking new lenses.
The Emory exhibit, entitled “And Something Magical Happened,” is brilliant for its simple framing of everyday baseball games, whether it’s Lou Brock on the run or stickball boys in the streets of Havana.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also in This Issue: Russia’s Olympics Ban; A Polarizing Crusade at Holy Cross; Tiger’s Comeback; Billie Jean King’s Historic Racquet; Jackie Robinson, Football Pioneer; Sports Book Gift Ideas; Remembering the Master of the Wing-T
It’s portraiture of a high degree, and it happens to be about sports, as Ciliberto finds the work of athletes and artists interwoven:
“Sports and art-making are valued both for their performance and for their results. The personality of the artist or athlete often plays a role in a fan’s appreciation for their work. Artists and athletes compete with one another, and also strive against form itself.”
That Iooss was one of the few photographers even mentioned, and only in passing, in Michael MacCambridge’s 1997 history of Sports Illustrated is more about the author’s choice to focus on the equally legendary writers of the magazine.
In recent years, Iooss, now in his early 70s, has been the subject of similar admiring retrospectives, including a 2015 exhibit at a Charlottesville, Va., photography festival, and a 2009 SI exhibit at The Newseum.
His books are as well-regarded as his 300 SI magazine covers and coverage of all 51 Super Bowls, including his collaboration with Michael Jordan, “Rare Air,” that demonstrated the photographer’s obsession on a par with his subject.
His work and reputation have endured even after leaving SI, and as he continues to shoot for the magazine’s swimsuit issue.
The timeless simplicity of “The Catch” remains an iconographic example of sports photography at its finest. As David Davis, an historian of sports photography, explained it to me:
“Walter is a magician. Some photographers specialize in baseball or football or tennis. Walter shot many different sports—and did them all extremely well. He did action; he did portraiture; he captured the indelible moment.
“He and Neil Leifer (another SI legend) pushed each other. They were—are—so very different personality wise, and they approached each assignment very differently. And yet they each had the same goal: to shoot the hell out of the event. Simple as that. And boy did they ever succeed.”
His photo essays at The Players Tribune delve into subjects famous and obscure, and his home collection reveals a strong preference for classic film work, much of which he has framed: Ali, Dr. J., Borg, and more.
In 2011, in an SI piece about Iooss that’s not available online, he explains one of the many restless habits that has set him above so many of his peers:
“I modeled my life as a photographer on the way athletes play their games. I don’t like sitting in a stadium for two hours chitchatting and smiling. What do I have to look at? I know what I’m going to shoot. I’ve arrived at events just as the national anthem was ending. It used to piss off the other photographers. They’re there three hours, four hours before the game. Boring.”
He does seem wistful about how the involved processes he’s made famous are on the wane. The death of the long shoot doesn’t fit the contemporary, fleeting demands of the digital age of photography, which he clearly excels in as a form, while not totally embracing some of the by-products:
“ It used to be longer than it is today. You would go out for three weeks or a month. I tell you what—it was a grueling trip, any trip that long. Something happens on shoots. I’m a firm believer in that. People start to get a little wacky. It’s almost a rule. It’s like a full moon or a high or low tide. If you’re ten days into a trip with the crew starts to lose their focus, especially now with cellphones and tweeting and everything. I turn around and absolutely no one is doing anything except doing their own videos, taking pictures of each other, tweeting, facebooking.”
Yet he’s in a far better place than many of his workaday sports photography peers, whose work has been undercut to the point of near-obliteration. As one of them remarked following the continuing hollowing out of that corner of the industry: “The ride is over. It was a great run.”
A Few Good Reads
- Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who’s run afoul of Vladimir Putin in her native country, writes at The New Yorker about Russia’s doping-related ban from the upcoming Winter Olympics, and how it’s being regarded in Moscow as a declaration of war;
- Not surprisingly, the directors of the recent Netflix documentary “Icarus,” which explores the Russian doping saga, are praising the ban;
- Sports historian Jules Boykoff, author of the 2016 book “Power Games,” thinks the ban is a massive black eye for an Olympic movement he’s long believed has many more serious problems than doping;
- At The Guardian, Patrick Hruby writes how ESPN is managing decline after another brutal round of layoffs;
- Tiger Woods is trying to get back into the swing of golf, but his bid to being competitive again on the PGA Tour is a long shot;
- At Only A Game, W.M. Akers (creator of the “Deadball” baseball-themed game) writes about some rare, recently discovered documents about the Players’ League, a pro baseball circuit in the 1890 season started by John Montgomery Ward. It was an offshoot of the first players’ union that tried to stand up to the lords of the reserve clause but not for long;
- Joe Louis Arena will soon be abandoned in Detroit, and mostly Red Wings memorabilia from the old building went out for auction online Saturday, with more items to be sold later;
- One more from the collectors’ world: the Wilson racquet used by Billie Jean King in her 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs has fetched a $125,000 price at auction, believed to be a record for a single piece of women’s sports memorabilia;
- At The Boston Globe, Chad Finn goes long on this oral history of Larry Bird’s 60-point game in 1985 against my Atlanta Hawks, a game I wish I could forget;
- More from the Globe and columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who explores a campus flap to change the sports nickname of the Jesuit-affiliated College of the Holy Cross from the “Crusaders,” which some students find offensive for religious A number of sports alumni are pushing back as the school marks the 70th anniversary of its NCAA national championship in basketball led by Bob Cousy. The name change crusade has been called “political correctness run amok” by Tommy Heinsohn, another Holy Cross grad and Celtics legend.
Sports Book News
- Judges for the 2017 PEN/ESPN Literary Sports Writing Awards were announced this week: Sally Jenkins, author and columnist for The Washington Post; GQ tennis correspondent Chloe Cooper Jones; and Joe Nocera, co-author of the 2016 PEN/ESPN award-winning “Indentured,” about the NCAA’s amateurism crisis. The longlist nominations are due out 18, followed by the short lists in January and the winner on Feb. 1, 2018;The
- Coming in February, “The Black Bruins,” by James Johnson (author of “The Dandy Dons”) draws portraits the five UCLA football players who integrated the program in the 1930s, including Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington and Tom Bradley, later the mayor of Los Angeles, and gets a positive thumbnail review at Kirkus;
- Coming in May from Penguin Random House: “The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism,” by ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant, who’s about as “woke” a sportswriter as there is, long before he took up a “Full Dissident” Twitter handle. He’s a very talented writer (I especially enjoyed his Henry Aaron biography), and he’s done good work selecting the 2017 “Best American Sports Writing” collection. But the description of the “The Heritage” reads like a broadside against a conservative sports culture writers like Bryant obviously enjoy demonizing, but who continue to reveal some breathtaking media myopia;
- In the 1880s, the Detroit Wolverines were in the National League and won the pennant in 1887, only to disband a year later. Canadian journalist Brian Martin is author of the first full history of the club, “The Detroit Wolverines,” just published by McFarland Books;
- From The Wall Street Journal, some ideas on books for sports-loving fans on your holiday gift list.
Harold “Tubby” Raymond, 92, coached the University of Delaware Blue Hens to three small-college football national championships and won 300 games, the 13th-highest total in NCAA history. His players included future NFL quarterback Rich Gannon. Raymond, who lived an active life well beyond his retirement in 2001, was best-known as an innovator of the Wing-T offense that has some fashionable followers today, especially Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
As a high school coach in Arkansas, Malzahn read Raymond’s book that included philosophy as well as formations, especially the “sequential” approach to play-calling that featured high-level misdirection and tightly integrating passing, running and option components. Well into his 90s, Raymond continued to paint portraits of senior Blue Hens players, a creative outlet he started in the late 1950s.
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 107, published Dec. 10, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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