All artists; or photographers as the case may be, have some form of inspirational influence. Whether it comes from a social or historical event, a place they have been or a contemporary photographer it does not matter. The fact is, the human mind struggles preposterously with creating totally new ideas as most ideas are born out of something we have seen or experienced before.
While I was gathering information about techniques for a sports photography brief in my last assignment, I stumbled across a photographer called Damian Strohmeyer. I was looking for information regarding the techniques of shooting an American football game and Strohmeyer happens to be at the top of his game in this department. Sports photography is the genre in which I would like very much to pursue a career because it interests me a great deal and I grew up playing a wide variety of sports, and I am also a sports fanatic.
After looking at some of Strohmeyer’s images I was pretty amazed at the quality. Because of Strohmeyer’s ability to capture the moment and also produce artistic looking shots, even though he is primarily shooting sports. At first inspection of the genre; it was apparent that usually shooting sports, is about capturing the action and reaction of the participants. I was instantly inspired.
Strohmeyer is a freelance photographer who regularly shoots for American sports magazine Sports Illustratedand his work can be seen on the front cover of the magazine no-fewer than seventy times.
Before he began working for Sports Illustrated he worked for The Topeka Capital Journal and the Denver Post newspapers as a photojournalist. Strohmeyer has always wanted to be an all-round photographer and has said on occasion, “I’m not a sports photographer, I’m a photojournalist who happens to photograph sports.”
Sports photography has evolved through the years with advancements in technology. More so than in any genre of photography the equipment you use bears a significant amount whether you can get the shot or not. In sports photography, you need to have the right equipment or you are just wasting your time.
Shutter speeds increasing, ISO sensitivity improving and the ability to shoot in higher bursts of frames have all advanced for the better. Autofocus has become a thing and it has also got faster lately. Lenses have become better quality and faster allowing more light to hit the camera’s sensor so the final images you can produce are a lot better quality because they are sharper and with more detail.
Just the same as Strohmeyer, I grew up playing various sports and in particular American football, so I decided to send him a message on his LinkedIn account and to my amazement he replied. I had been looking for Strohmeyer’s influences online so that I could get a feel for how his photography had grown. I found out by watching a short video on You Tube that one of his main mentors was Rich Clarkson and in an online interview I had with Strohmeyer (11 September 2018) asking if his main mentor was Rich Clarkson, he stated “Rich was a huge influence in my early years in photography. He hired me, moulded me and was instrumental in providing the foundation for my work. Photography isn’t a lot different than sports in that regard. If you have the fundamentals learned and under your control, then the rest will take care of itself”
After learning this valuable information, I needed to look at this mentor of his to discover the similarities to his work and development as a photographer. And also, how the genre of sports journalism has evolved.
Clarkson, R. (1989) Boston college players stretch in their locker room before the game against Temple, in Alumni Stadium, Chestnut hill, MA. Boston college defeated Temple 35-14.
The above image by Clarkson was taken with a film camera as it was shot in 1989. The digital era did not start generally until around 2000 and was a huge milestone in photography as a whole but no more so than in sports photography.
The new camera’s ability to show the photographer the image straight away on the back of the camera makes the job easier to know when you have ‘got the shot’. Also, the new digital cameras have the ability to shoot at a high burst rate to capture up to 16 frames a second, thus making the job of capturing ‘the moment’ tenfold easier than in the old film camera days. Autofocus has been improved in a huge way on the cameras that sports photographers use. The autofocus is supersonic speed with professional lenses so that the shooter does not have to fiddle with the lens barrel to focus anymore and hope that the images they have shot are in focus while they wait for the photographic chemicals work on their film. Back in the film camera days a photographer would think they had got a good shot; but sometimes after processing the film they realised that they hadn’t, it must have been very frustrating for them.
Because of these advancements in technology; the contemporary sports photographer has slightly different assignments given to them from their superiors, it is not all about getting the shot of the peak of action or the reaction anymore, this part of the job has become a lot easier with the new cameras. There are more shots taken at sports events in an artistic way now. Floodlit stadiums from afar at night or Tennis players throwing the ball into the air to serve with a black background and with strong shadows for example. Another type of image that I see a lot of is, a silhouetted golfer posing at the end of their swing with a sunset background with beautiful colours in the sky. You only have to look on Instagram at various sports photographers’ images to see what type of work they are doing nowadays.
If I go back to Clarkson’s image in the locker room, you can see that it is not the everyday type of sports photography in the fact that it is not the fast-paced action shot that you see on the field-of-play, but it is a more artistic type of image that has become more commonplace today in sports photography. Therefore, this leads me to believe that Clarkson is a more rounded photographer in his work and thinks about sport photography as art and not only in a documentary way. In fact, sports photography is nearing this artistic side of the photographic spectrum more and more all the time.
Clarkson, R. (1984) Patrick Ewing of Georgetown goes up for the dunk during the final four men’s Basketball semi-final held in Seattle, WA at the Kingdome. Georgetown defeated Kentucky 53-40 to advance to the championship game.
The above image of a Basketball game by Clarkson; although capturing the moment with Ewing about to slam dunk the ball. It is also shot by a photographer with an artistic mind. The use of the wide-angle lens and the very low angle at which it is shot is making the athletes look bigger and more imposing. The lighting around the roof of the arena leads your eye to the basket and the ball which is the centre of the image. One of the lights in fact is as a starburst and gives the feeling of you looking at star athletes, anyone who knows anything about Basketball through the years has heard of Ewing. He is in fact, a star player, so it is fitting.
The camera was resting on the floor and Clarkson may have been using a cable-release on the camera to open the shutter with the lens pre-focused on the basketball ring. Nevertheless, he has caught the action brilliantly as the timing of the shot is perfect and remember he would not have had 16 frames a second, he would have had 1 frame to shoot with his old-style film camera.
During my interview with Strohmeyer, he also said “After I moved into the sports photography world Heinz Kluetmeier was and still is a big influence on me. I rely on him still about ideas and technical execution. Heinz also gave me my first contract at Sports Illustrated.”
Klutetmeier is a Sports Illustrated photographer too, although his early life was time spent learning about engineering at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire in America. This early life learning about engineering gave Kluetmeier the platform to produce gadgets to photograph sports remotely and therefore at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, he used his camera remotely to capture Sebastian Coe winning the 1500m race at the finish line, where no one could go. “Mr Kluetmeier was the only photographer to put a remote out. “Now,” he said, “you go to the Olympics and there are like 50 remotes at the finish line.”” (Loke, 1996).
Kluetmeier, H (1980) Sebastian Coe crossing the finish line in his 1500m Race for the gold medal.
Kluetmeier was also the first photographer to put a camera underwater in an Olympic pool with a fish-eye lens on to capture the athletes in the frame as though they are in a fishbowl on the way to winning gold.
Kluetmeier, H (1988) Fisheye lens image inside an Olympic pool.
As you can see in the above image, the fisheye creates a fishbowl looking image that is quite apt as it is showing swimmers in it. This image inspires me because it takes you close to the action in an image that you cannot see from the normal vantage point of above the water. It is different, it makes you look hard at the image and at the details in it of the blue sky above the swimmers and the scoreboard. The circular shape to the image leads your eye around it to look at the whole thing.
Kluetmeier has been instrumental in shaping the way sports photographer’s now work, with the technical advances in strategy when trying to get the shot or even how the images look aesthetically, no more so than Strohmeyer.
Kluetmeier personifies the natural human struggle to try and maximise the output of what we already have. He is always striving for better and is an inspiration.
During the interview with Strohmeyer he stated, “The work of John Zimmerman, Neil Leifer and Rich Clarkson among others were inspirations to me.”
Zimmerman was a Sports Illustrated photographer from 1956-1963 before moving on to different projects and was the first photographer to put a camera above the rim of a basket according to Walter Looss Jr. (1961)
Zimmerman, J G (1961) Wilt Chamberlain dunking a Basketball.
Zimmerman’s above image was “like looking at something from another planet. It had never been done before. No one had seen the game from there.” (Looss Jr, 1961).
The image certainly put you right at the forefront of the action and lets you see the expression and dynamism of the athletes face in all detail while he is slamming the Basketball for a dunk. In sports photography that is what you want in the image. Strohmeyer says “It’s all about the faces” in his lifetime of sports photography video sponsored by Canon in 2012.
First of all, Zimmerman was a photojournalist, essentially that is what a sports photographer is. It just so happens they take photos of sports.
Zimmerman, J G (1950) Floyd Boring the agent that helped save President Harry S Truman’s life.
The image above is that of Floyd Boring standing guard outside Blair House in Washington, D.C., after the shootout that stopped an attempt to kill President Truman in 1950.
Zimmerman’s first photography job was in the navy, but in 1950 he got a job working for Time, the weekly news magazine in America founded in 1923. On his first assignment while driving away from the White House with other photographers they heard gunshots nearby at Blair House as two men were trying to assassinate Truman. Zimmerman was the first photographer to get a good close up shot and his image was published in both Time and Life.
“There are, broadly speaking, two approaches to photojournalism. There is the approach that tries to maintain a distance, a cool objectivity, and the approach that is involved, that is pointedly political. (Badger, 2007)
It does not take a genius to work out which one the Floyd Boring image belongs to.
These two approaches to photojournalism can be used in sports photography, either you can get up close and personal by filling the frame as much as possible or you can stand back in a sense. I prefer the up-close style myself and can see this style used by the mentioned photographers.
Strohmeyer, D. (circa 2002-2004) Cubs’ outfielder Moises making a catch in the ivy at Wrigley Field.
The above image shot by Strohmeyer is an action photograph, but the framing makes it one of the more artistic images in his portfolio. Strohmeyer has stated, “To me the striking image invokes memories of the movie Field of Dreams.” This is probably why it is in a list of his favourite images.
The green and the blue in the image are both complimentary colours and fit your eye very well and just the fact that the shot is of a baseball player entwined in the ivy makes you look at the image with more intrigue. The patterns of the leaves give the image texture and the framing of the image is not done in your average amateur point and click way. Some amateurs with less of a photographic eye would have had the baseball player in the middle of the frame whereas Strohmeyer put him slightly to one side following the rule-of-thirds idea and this definitely makes the image more aesthetically pleasing.
Baseball wouldn’t give a photographer much chance to capture a ‘different’ shot like this so Strohmeyer would have had been ready and poised to capture this image because this moment is a fleeting one at best. The game is one which involves hours of play. You have got to admire a photographer who keeps that finger on the shutter release ready for these moments because a lot of photographers would have missed the opportunity by being distracted or not concentrating on the job in hand.
You could have had a baseball player catching the ball at the boundary’s edge with the ivy as the backdrop but, this is special. It is far from an everyday image. It is something that is hardly ever seen. Roland Barthes, the French literary theorist, philosopher and linguist had an idea for this type of image or part of an image as the case is, and he called that the ‘Punctum’. “A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” (Barthes, 1980) this in my mind is the special element to an image that makes it stand out from the crowd and has me looking at it for longer. The basics of an image, the average or as Barthes puts it “a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity.” (Barthes, 1980) Is what he calls the “studium” Barthes means this is the basic image; or part of an image without anything special about it, the norm.
I believe all skilled photographers have a special talent in finding moments or scenes to take a picture out of what has the punctumin it; if not all the time, which would make you an absolute genius, but at least some of the time. Strohmeyer and his influencers have definitely got this talent.
Strohmeyer, D 2000. In the Little League World Series Venezuela celebrated its championship game victory over Bellaire, Texas.
In this image above the ‘punctum’ is the sheer elation on the boy’s face as his team won the biggest prize in their game while just playing for the love of the game.
I picked the above image out from many I shot during this American football game because if I was a picture desk editor, I think I would have picked it. The eyes of the man carrying the ball are of a steely nature as he is making yardage up the field and the man in the background wearing number seventy-three has a look to him suggesting ‘oh no, not another touchdown to the opponents.’
The image is more complex than some of the other images I shot on the day and made me think more about it; it has a type of punctumto it, albeit not in a huge sense but slightly, and that is why I chose the image. I am of an advantage in the fact I know about this sport, but any sports picture desk editor would have the same knowledge of sport and would make similar decisions.
All of these photographers I have written about inspire me, they are all skilled and hard working at their craft and they have all put an artistic element into their work which I like a lot because their work excites my eye. The images are not the run-of-the-millevery day images, they have real impact. For them, and me it is not just about making images to document a story but also making images that have an impact to all who see them. They have, and they are leaving a legacy for other photographers to follow in their footsteps. Me, as an aspiring sports photographer hopes that I can leave some sort of footprint on the world that I should be proud of like these people should be. Not only have these photographers documented the story of sports in their images but they have also left some timeless iconic images that they have their name attached to, just like the great artists of the world.
Of course, my aim is to earn some sort of living from photography but, in years to come if any student is writing about me and my photographic eye in the same way as I am writing about these people then I would have really achieved something special. It is clear to see that these photographers are all hard workers, Strohmeyer said in one of his videos “you can’t get anywhere without working really hard” (Canon 2012). I must work hard to get anywhere too and intend to.