The whole idea of sports photography seems quaint, what with the
availability of wall-to-wall video. Television is the ultimate
motor drive; you want visuals, you just dial them up. What
advantage could photography, with its excruciatingly slow
delivery, enjoy in such a world?
None? Then why do we linger over these damn pictures?
Photography is an antique technology that ought to have been
made irrelevant long ago. Yet why is it that the picture of
Dwight Clark's catch in the 1982 NFC title game, which you
originally watched live on TV, remains interesting long after
that event's excitement has expired? Odd, isn't it?
There's something about the way photography distills achievement
and defeat (Y.A. Tittle, bloody and bowed and all alone) and
organizes it so starkly within the borders of a single picture.
Why is it that a single instant, out of all that constant and
streaming imagery, yields so much emotion?
And how do these photographs accumulate so much information
through that little lens? Consider the shot of Muhammad Ali, his
arm cocked above the implausibly supine Sonny Liston--his
ferocious arrogance spells out the generational unrest to come.
That's not a sports picture; that's history foretold.
Oh, it's odd all right, a picture's ability to edit life, to
articulate every moment of meaning. Famous pictures: Lombardi on
his players' shoulders, Mary Decker sprawled on the track, angry
and beaten, Secretariat so far ahead on the backstretch that
excellence is revealed for what it really is--an elegant
loneliness. Not documents, so much. Explanations.
That's photography's advantage, isn't it? So much clutterCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL LEIFER COVER THE CENTURY'S GREATEST SPORTS PHOTOS ALI VS. LISTON, MAY 25, 1965 COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO MONTAGE BY NOLA LOPEZ THE 20TH CENTURYCOLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ STROBE CAMERA Speed Graphic camera with flash used in the 1920s by Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Bruce Murray Sr.COLOR PHOTO: MEMORABILIA COURTESY OF THE BRUCE MURRAY COLLECTION PRESS PASS Credential issued to Neil Leifer for the second Ali-Liston heavyweight championship fightB/W PHOTO: MEL LEVINE FILM STRIP Strip of negatives with Mark Kauffman's shot of Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World SeriesCOLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ (3) KODAK FILM Box of four-by-five-inch film sheets for the Speed Graphic cameras used by sports photographers from the '20s through the '50sCOLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ (3) WORKING PRESS Metal badge issued to photojournalists in the '40sCOLOR PHOTO: NOLA LOPEZ (3) LONG LENS CAMERA Nikon F with a 300-mm 2.8 lens, which revolutionized photography in the early '60s because it could be used in low-light situationsCOLOR PHOTO: WALTER SCHMITZ/BILDERBERG PHOTOGRAPHERS The finish line for track events at the 1992 Summer Olympics in BarcelonaCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. JANUARY 10, 1982Dwight Clark displayed excellent fingertip control as he put the 49ers into Super Bowl XVI.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RONALD C. MODRA SEPTEMBER 28, 1988 Ben Johnson's world-record 100 at the Seoul Olympics was wiped out by a positive drug test.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAILY NEWS SEPTEMBER 29, 1954 Willie Mays went to the Polo Grounds' wall to rob Cleveland's Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the World Series.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA PHOTOS JUNE 14, 1998 Michael Jordan's last shot in the NBA sank the Jazz in Game 6 of the Finals at Utah.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BURNETT/CONTACT AUGUST 10, 1984 Mary Decker suffered defeat when she tripped in the 3,000-meter finals at the L.A. Olympics. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER FEBRUARY 22, 1980The U.S. hockey team exulted after upsetting the Russians in the Olympic semifinals.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MORRIS BERMAN/PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE SEPTEMBER 20, 1964Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle was bloody and bowed after a loss to the Steelers at Pitt Stadium.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RAY LUSSIER/BOSTON HERALD/BREARLEY COLLECTION MAY 10, 1970 Bobby Orr was flying high after his winning goal in Boston's sweep of St. Louis in the Stanley Cup finals.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS COLE/ALLSPORT OCTOBER 13, 1991 Hawaiian champ Konishiki had a distinct size advantage during the Grand Sumo Tournament in London.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL LEIFER JANUARY 14, 1968Vince Lombardi was in high spirits as Jerry Kramer (64) carried him from the Packers' Super Bowl II win.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK KAUFFMAN SEPTEMBER 28, 1955Jackie Robinson stole home under Yogi Berra's tag in Game 1 of the Dodgers' World Series win over the Yankees. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CARL YARBROUGH FEBRUARY 13, 1998Hermann Maier flew out of contention during the downhill at the Winter Olympics in Nagano.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HERB SCHARFMAN/INP SEPTEMBER 23, 1952Jersey Joe Walcott was bent out of shape when Rocky Marciano took his heavyweight title. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER SEPTEMBER 29, 1988Jackie Joyner-Kersee soared to a gold medal in the long jump at the Summer Olympics in Seoul. B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB COGLIANESE JUNE 9, 1973 Secretariat, with Ron Turcotte up, completed his Triple Crown run with a breathtaking 31-length victory in the Belmont. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER JANUARY 18, 1976Lynn Swann's spectacular catches in Super Bowl X made him the game's MVP.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN IACONO APRIL 13, 1986Jack Nicklaus turned back the clock--and Greg Norman and Tom Kite--to win his sixth Masters. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. JULY 24, 1996Todd Torres swam smoothly but didn't get past his heat in the 200-meter breaststroke in the Atlanta Olympics.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HY PESKIN NOVEMBER 30, 1955 Tony DeMarco was KO'd by Carmen Basilio in their welterweight title fight at Boston Garden.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER AUGUST 7, 1992 Sergei Bubka missed his vault live and on the video screen at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CRAIG HACKER NOVEMBER 14, 1998No flag was thrown on this tackle of Nebraska's Eric Crouch by Kansas State's Travis Ochs.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HY PESKIN JUNE 10, 1950 Ben Hogan used a one-iron for his approach to the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Merion, which he won in a playoff.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER AUGUST 29, 1975The Reds' Pete Rose made his usual landing at third against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN NOVEMBER 20, 1960Chuck Bednarik's tackle knocked Giants halfback Frank Gifford out of football until 1962.B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY DUFFY/ALLSPORT OCTOBER 18, 1968Bob Beamon's long jump at the Mexico City Olympics shattered the world record by 1'9 3/4".COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD MACKSON OCTOBER 19, 1991The Twins' Dan Gladden was out, but Braves catcher Greg Olson was still upset in Game 1 of the World Series.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK JULY 10, 1999Brandi Chastain lost her shirt after her penalty kick clinched a U.S. victory in the World Cup.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SAM FORENCICH/NBA PHOTOS FEBRUARY 22, 1997 The Bulls' Dennis Rodman flat-out hustled for a loose ball against Golden State.
cropped. So much tumult made quiet. So much movement rendered
remarkable in its forced repose. Odd: All that constant and
streaming imagery--all that confusion--resolved into sharp-edged
clarity. One frame at a time.