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Matinee: Walter Iooss on Capturing Sports Legends Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

27 March 2021

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 389th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Walter Iooss on Capturing Sports Legends.

When earlier this month the Mulvane Art Museum acquired a significant collection of photographs, we published a 1969 portrait of Hank Aaron by Walter Iooss, Jr. which was part of that acquisition.

But you may know his work from the 300 covers he's done for Sports Illustrated.

Until August 11, Christie's online sale The Athlete: Photographs by Walter Iooss, Jr. offers 38 rare Iooss photographs of sports stars from basketball, baseball, football and boxing, some signed by the athletes.

And just to get your blood going for those $1,500 to $10,000 prints, the auction house produced this four-minute clip of Iooss himself recalling at least two of his most famous shots.

The first is Slam Dunk, a photo of Michael Jordan at the 1988 Slam Dunk contest, which has an interesting back story that illustrates the kind of rapport possible between expert sports photographers and elite athletes. It's also amusing, as rapports tend to be.

Iooss had scouted the contest the previous year and realized the dunk wasn't the picture. It had to be the face. But how could he get an angle on the faces?

Michael Jordan had an idea. But we'll let Iooss tell you about it.

The other is his shot of Dwight Clark's last minute The Catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time. Iooss himself has been to 52 of them, an enviable record.

That was a legendary moment and Iooss knows how to capture legends.

It was a desperate throw by quarterback Joe Montana, too high for anyone to catch, on its way out of the end zone. But Clark elevated like Michael Jordan, growing an eighth of an inch on his way up and slowed the ball down with the ends of his fingernails until he could grasp it with the end of his fingers.

On the way back to the sideline, 49er coach Bill Walsh looked at Montana and congratulated him, "Your buddy sure saved your ass that time." Or as Clark used to remind Montana, they don't call it The Throw.


"The opportunity to spend time with all these exceptional people is a gift and few people get the chance to spend that time and create friends and imagery that spans half a century," Iooss reflects.

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