When Photographer James Drake arrived on assignment in Albuquerque recently, following an eight-hour trip from his home in Philadelphia, he first tuned the TV set in his motel room to Sesame Street, then removed some watercolors from his luggage and began painting the snow-crowned Sandia Mountains visible from his window. "I paint for relaxation," he explains. "I take watercolors wherever I go."
Drake's quiet, contemplative nature is a marked departure from that of the popular stereotype of the brash, hustling sports photographer. "I have a subdued style, I guess," he says, "but that can be effective on certain stories." Senior Writer Robert Boyle, who often has worked with Drake, agrees, marveling that "Jim is one photographer who goes on a story and everybody actually invites him back!"
It is characteristic of Drake to suffer more or less silently all the W. C. Fields kind of jokes about Philadelphia, but he is in fact fond enough of his hometown to have taken the photographs for a book affectionately entitled Philadelphia: The Intimate City. He says, assertively, for Jim, "There are parts of Philadelphia, like the Schuylkill River and the parks, that have a Parisian quality." It was his regard for the Schuylkill, with its charming old boathouses and the eight-man shells moving with geometric precision along its surface, that inspired Drake to undertake the photo essay on crew beginning on page 40. "People watching the shells from a distance see only the beauty," he says. "I also wanted to show the strength and effort involved."
Although his surname has brought upon him the nickname, predictably, of "Duck," Drake's own athletic career was landlocked. He was a high school track star at Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School, though his best time in the 200-yard low hurdles—.23:00 flat—remains a record there for the inglorious reason that the event was dropped soon after the record was set.
April 23, 1973
A University of Pennsylvania graduate who joined SI in 1962, Drake also is a film maker. His Progression, shown at Montreal's Expo '67, is a cinematic montage, an almost subliminally affective 50-second bombardment by 1,200 single-frame images of Philadelphia street scenes. His offbeat documentary The White House Steak and Sub Shop has been shown on educational TV in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago; Drake filmed it in 1970-71 around the White House, recording the comings and goings of visitors ranging from garden-club tour groups to students tear-gassed during demonstrations.
Another of Drake's interests is classical music, which blares full blast from the quadraphonic system in his town house in Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood. His sons, Christopher, 3½, and Patrick, 2 (Drake lets them watch Sesame Street with him), have no trouble sleeping through the decibels, and his wife Jean seldom complains—perhaps because this may be the only loud thing about Jim. Less tolerant is Picture Editor George Blood-good, who phoned Drake recently but was able to hear only the 1812 Overture in the background. "Turn that down, will you?" pleaded Bloodgood.
"I just did," Drake hollered, in his quiet way.