Walter Iooss – Athlete

Copyright Walter Iooss 2008 courtesy Time Inc. Home Entertainment

Walter Iooss started making his mark in sports photography in the 1960’s capturing the dynamic pulse and intensity of many of American’s iconic sports events; football, basketball, golf, boxing and baseball. As a staff photographer at Sports Illustrated, he has over 300 covers on this renown sports magazine, but it is his photographs of the individuals who are called Athletes that are the subject of this large and lavish book.

With his impressive press credentials, he has unlimited access to front row seats at some spectacular sports events. Nevertheless, he provides ample evidence that it still requires a sense of timing, anticipation and framing to capture the dynamic essence of any human event. This thirty-five year retrospective draws on Iooss’s photographs that have since become iconic images that still define certain sports memories.

Perhaps not as well known are his portraits of the athletes who personalized their individual sports passion, as well as those casual moments when they are not on stage, have their guard down, reveling their own humanity. He found a very tan and casual Joe Namath amongst adoring fans pool-side, Aronld Palmer and Jack Nickaloas having lunch off the golf course, and Joe Dimaggio holding court and fielding reporters questions in the locker room.

The interior images take full advantage of the 11” x 14” book with full bleed images on the single pages and immense 14 x 22” images across the double spread. The careful editing has paired similar emotional content images of the athletes across the facing pages. The same frontal view, with a hand on the hip stance, thumb tucked into the seam of their pants, of a female surfer paired with the photograph of the football quarterback. Two photographs of basketball players, each separately caught in pensive thought. Two intense baseball players, one obviously in the pro league, the other on the urban streets of the pick-up league.

Nevertheless, Iooss reveals his humor and playfulness when he investigates his non-famous young subjects. Whether is a line of young boys who are reflexively protecting their groins from an inbound soccer ball, a young batter taking a leg-up to place his full power into swing, or a young group intently watching a stick ball hitter executing a decisive swing. These are delightful images of youth, still naive, probably with dreams of a future in professional sports, yet still appearing to enjoy the moment of the day.

The book is an uneven mix of singular images from sporting events, assignment portraits and personal work. It lacks a cohesiveness that might help create a stronger context for the figurative work of Iooss. This book is clearly intended for the coffee table of the sports aficionado, loaded with famous iconic sports personalities and events.

In the last image in the book, Iooss’s sensitivity is revealed in a poignant portrait of two aging boxes, Ali and Frazier, now well past their prime, who introspectively face the camera together. Ali’s eyes still seem to convey the intensity of their rivalry, while Frazier appears to now stoically face reality.

By Douglas Stockdale

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