This photograph of a young man pretending to play “real” tennis, also known as court tennis (the forerunner of the modern game of tennis), is the earliest known sports photograph. Because exposure times were too long to stop movement, the subject poses with his racket as if engaged in a volley and focuses on an imaginary ball. A metal headrest, retouched out in the negative, helped him remain still during the one- or two-minute exposure.
This photograph, often referred to as “Bubble Boy,” won first prize in the sports category of the 1993 World Press Awards. With it, Tim Clayton captured an effect he had observed when swimmers surface at the start of a race, breaking the water tension.
Trained at Pratt Institute, Robert Riger loved sports photography because it “showed the beauty and power of man.” Many of his action shots complicate the supposed boundaries between “high” and “low” art. When his photographs show bodies suspended in movement, as in this shot of the Baltimore Colts playing the New York Giants, they assume the quality of a great historic painting.
In 1881, Georges Demeny became an assistant to Étienne-Jules Marey, distinguished professor at the Collège de France, often using chronophotography (several frames of movement on one negative) to study movement. In 1902, Demeny was hired to head a scientific photographic laboratory at l’École de Jonville, a sports college in Paris for training athletes and soldiers. This was the first photographic sports research center in the world. Demeny used photography to study stress, fatigue, muscular movements, and efficiency in physical activity.
Bob Martin’s photograph is so beautifully and graphically composed, and so structured, that the details come into focus only after a moment of looking. This is the Paralympics, and swimmer Avi Torres has taken off his prostheses, which are not permitted in the pool.
Lev Borodulin was a press photographer in the former Soviet Union who applied formalist photographic principles—emphasizing aesthetics over storytelling—to sports photography. Girl Archer shows how well he absorbed the ideas of early twentieth-century Russian Constructivist and Bauhaus theory, which valued geometric forms and new perspectives.
According to Krystle Wright, who is in the business of outdoor adventure, women have to “work harder than the men” in the male-dominated field of sports adventure photography.
Daniel Rodrigues, an underemployed Portuguese photojournalist, went to Guinea-Bissau with a humanitarian organization, Missão Dulombi, to help reconstruct a school and a hospital. The children and young people there play soccer almost every day, and Rodrigues played with them. One day, when the light was perfect, he took this photograph.
Rodrigues’s life changed when, after selling all his camera equipment for economic reasons, this photograph won first place in the “daily life” category of the World Press Photo awards and he was able to pursue his chosen profession.
Sports Illustrated assigned Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice to capture the diversity of San Francisco 49ers fans. She succeeded in this image of an exuberant celebratory kiss between fans watching the game at a bar in the Castro district of San Francisco that caters to the LBGTQ community.
The two men locked in a wrestling hold in this raw and brutal image are Mixed Martial Artists (MMA), an umbrella title given to those who compete in combat sports that combine fighting disciplines such as karate, boxing, and traditional wrestling. It is a modern variant of Greco-Roman wrestling, which can trace its origins back to 650 B.C.E.
“My most successful photographs are preconceptualized. . . . Frame the scene. Start composing like a painting rather than chasing things and just capturing action.”
Before his recent work as a freelancer and twenty years as a sports photographer for Allsport and Getty picture agencies before that, Don Miralle studied art at UCLA. That background informs how he thinks about his photographic practice.
Close looking reveals that in this panoramic image there is an artist at his easel on the building directly across from where Miralle set up the shot.
Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present
July 15, 2016–January 8, 2017
Tickets for this exhibition are $16 and include Museum general admission. Tickets are available at our Admissions Desk. Admission to this exhibition closes one hour before the Museum closes.
Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present is one of the first museum exhibitions to put sports photographers in the forefront and is the most comprehensive presentation of sports photography ever organized. It encompasses approximately 230 works—from daguerreotypes and salted paper prints to digital images—that capture the universal appeal of sports, highlighting unforgettable moments of drama and excitement from around the globe.
The 170 photographers represented in Who Shot Sports include Richard Avedon, Al Bello, David Burnett, Rich Clarkson, Georges Demeny, Dr. Harold Edgerton, Rineke Dijkstra, Brian Finke, Toni Frissell, Ken Geiger, LeRoy Grannis, David Guttenfelder, Ernst Haas, Charles "Teenie" Harris, Walter Iooss, Jr., Heinz Kleutmeier, Stanley Kubrick, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Neil Leifer, Étienne-Jules Marey, Bob Martin, Martin Munkacsi, Edward Muybridge, Catherine Opie, Leni Riefenstahl, Robert Riger, Alexander Rodchenko, Howard Schatz, Flip Schulke, George Silk, Barton Silverman, and Andy Warhol.
"Today, it is the photographers who give sports its indelible image," says Gail Buckland, who returns as guest curator after the 2009 exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. "Seeing athletic greatness, we both recognize our personal physical limitations and delight in bodies and minds taken to new heights. To play and to watch sports is to be in the moment. Still photographers are masters of moments."
Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present is organized by guest curator Gail Buckland. The Brooklyn presentation is coordinated by Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions, Brooklyn Museum.
A companion book of the same title, published by Alfred A. Knopf, accompanies the exhibition.