THE X FACTOR IN SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY ?

 

With Argentine Las Leonas players Noey and Gisi after Press Conference.

From time to time I like to look through my vast archives and see what comes into my head with the memories they bring back. I am happy to get up everyday and never lose my enthusiasm for what I love to do and feel that I am learning new things everyday even after all these years.  I am sixty one this month, and have held a camera since  I was nineteen!  Recently by a set of circumstances I found myself looking through large numbers of images from my first ever international field hockey event , the Samsung World Cup  , 2006 at the rather posh  , vast , beautifully appointed Club De Campo, Madrid . That one was back in the days when I had to be self-funding and I could do that because I was still earning a healthy salary as a special education professional. Think  Igot media accreditation via Push Magazine if I recall correctly.

 

Flight of Fancy

So , as usual in my own way of doing things, I booked a budget flight which involved , an always welcome  change-over in Holland, and then on to Madrid. I packed carefully. I often just look for cheap accomodation on arrival rather than book anything to give me flexibility. I’m an inner city dweller and thus my camera bag has the appearance of a black rucksack.  I deliberately don’t look like a camera totting tourist inviting a mugging!  Several thousand pounds worth of professional gear plus a few essential items to wear, travelling light, but with a laptop and a digital frame as well. (My bag has a laptop compartment) The laptop means that when the day’s shoot is over and I am alone in my room- I can make good use of my time  viewing and editing my photographs. I never tire of the excitement of seeing images for the first time full screen and would never dream of coming back and going straigh to bed without downlaoding them from the camera memory cards and going through them all!  ( Experiences? Laugh at myself now but,my  new camera bag, carefully checked its dimensions and sure it would fit into the jet’s overhead locker and thus not incur extra costs. Ooops- slightly over filled , went in the locker easily at a fatal squeeze  , but when I opened my bag in the hotel, crushed laptop screen- not pleased !  no matter, trip to a computer shop, and thus could link the digital frame to my computer and at least use it as a monitor. )

Life's essentials in a posher than usual Dutch hotel!

PHOTOGRAPHER MINDSET- THE EYE OF THE CHILD WITHIN?

Well the theme today is what gives my photography work the ” X ” factor and what can I share that might be valuable to you if you have an interest in photography and recording such things as sports events? Well there is an X in my surname but there is also an X in eXperience and that, the sum of year’s of experience  is what I think gives me the edge I can market! Things go wrong as they a;ways will do but i can adapt and improvise always and roll with the blows. I was born to be a teacher maybe , driven to communicate and later  share information, the “professional use of the self. ” First with kids in my city who mostly had been given a bum hand by life.  I loved that role, was good at it, no airs graces or awkwardness , no faking it. Within sensible perimeters why not try to be open and honest with kids and share the benifit of your own experience a bit like a decent parent with a strong sense of right and a purpose ? Also too, I tried to remember the kid I used to be and take care of the kid inside myself that is still active and kicking even today and is in awe of his surroundings and the people and things I encounter.

One thing I don’t seem to need a lot of sleep and certainly when I am covering events like this, I am adrenaline driven and rarely sleep more than a few hours. I appear to lack discpline to some but  have always been capable of  very long periods of  sustained focus on a task in things i genuinely care about. The kid inside me is important in what I do in my job. The grown up is tied up with time constraints, rules and list of “must does.”  The child is liberated,  so gets there early and is always one of the last to leave, like a little one reluctant to leave the fun fair or the beach as the sun goes down and the grown ups want to go home . I am there to record games of field hockey but the venue, the details, the ambience, the spectators, so many other things that help tell the story. I am a documentarist if such a word exisits. I also seem to be the keeper of a vast collection of other people’s memories. The things you miss by simply following the media herd, some of whom turn up on finals weekend, get their limited number of gravy shots and then shoot off to the bar , restaurant and then home !

Home for a few days!

OK, touchdown at Madrid Airport and into the city. Look at the map, judge where the arterial city road leads out to the venue and wonder around looking for somehwere convenient to stay. Ah, Hotel De Prensa- the old press centre. I take the lift and knock at reception. An elderly gentleman in slippers greets me in Spanish. Oops , ” Hi” and “how are you?” is about as far as I can manage.  French is my other language- taught it to kids with special needs half my career so grew bi-lingual as a result, not from my own school days . (Life is too short and fast  to mentally go through verb conjugations!)  I was born cheeky and lucky. What are the chances that the concierge was bilingual and spoke French ?  Just on the strength of that , my respect for others and insane sociability I got a double room for the price of a single. (This along the lines of a guy fed up with a string of English tourists doing the “Faulty Towers”  thing on him and shouting louder and louder in English – here was an “Gringo” who was different and actually courteous !     The X Factor fuel for me is rarely food but I am low maintenance , a fresh coffee junkie and plenty of nice outdoor places to get a fine cup while wondering around getting my bearings or to while away sapre moments.

Next in the X Factor makeup bag is insane optimisim , self-belief and self -confidence and that comes in handy shooting people you have never met , that you may need to organise , and who may not even speak any language you know ! I am told I have the  ” voice.” You know- I line up in a queue at the post office or a shop counter  or get on a bus and somene says  “You are a teacher aren’t you?” It is not that I am that loud although I have a  range of voices and a parade ground volume setting where needed  from year’s of calling kids from across acres of playground to line up ! I’d have been really handy person to have on the deck of the Titanic.   One of the way’s that voice comes in handy is for group and team shots and this is where  I am pretty sure I excel. Number one, the ability to organise in a light hearted but firm way and two to get everyone looking at me/ the camera and if possible, looking happy with themselves. Now my Japanese is very limited, don’t know about yours ? I know courtesies in a very broad range of languages  so whether it is Turkey, Scanadanvian  or Slav countries , no problemo. Of course it will be obvious to all that in most of those languages, by comparison ,  the  fake  Gendrame in Alo Alo!  would  sound like a native!   to native speakers that matters not; to have at least tried demonstratyes respect for their culture and that is always appreciated.

The delightful Japanese ladies , happy to have beaten the USA !

 

How did I do it ? Well for starters , I’d already smiled , bowed  a lot and beckoned  say hello in Japanese ( That and “goodbye” is my total ) and knew the location I wanted as it helped tell the story.  Then, ever smiling , signalling as I  tidied up the group.  Thumbs up worked as a signal i was ready . then two hands up to say not good enough and fingers pulling down the lips to make a sad face. Bursts of laughter!  and more important everyone looking to see what next. Finally,  very loud  “Nipon” thumbs up and gesture for a “one”  followed by  ” USA ” and a zero with my thumb and index finger. Not bad second take- very hammy look in the viewer back of camera and fake disappointment. Finally, last take, a very loud “Lovin it ” ( their sponsor logo) and we nailed this one. I give a thumbs up and bow politely. ( On this ocassion this was a unique shot. How many other times have potential sales been lost where someone from the fan base comes out of the crowd and takes the shot you have professionally set up and that ends up shared with all. Sigh.)

But , it doesn’t end there.

To have the X factor you have to try and be in the present  moment ,  be constantly observant  and not have a fixed agenda and above all don’t leave too soon!  That’s my MO anyway .  As the tension goes down and teams and people start to disperse I hang about. That’s no problem because people in particular are endlessly interesting whether actively involved in the actual sport , winding down, or just being themseleves. The Japenese showed a lot of emotion after the game but also the disciplined side as they warmed down after the team shot.  I just watched them and sensed they had something plannned. After the warm down they were called over by I think there manager and  I follwed them over.  He was just a little guy but they obviously adored him and after the hugs her was grabbed- and they picked him up and threw him in the air as a final celebration several times!  Seize the moment John and wait till he goes as highh as he’s gonna !

Japanese delight- enjoying those precious moments.

 

Finally , although I will come back to other  ideas and tips  about photography in future blogs, there is the overarching issue, for me ,  of respect for everyone and trying to show them at their best and show them their best as I like to think of it. And, doing the best job I can  to get  the best documentary record I can of people’s life defining  moments at any level and any activity. Also I’m a  serial journalist, whether it is for a magazine or other media or just because it is something I  also love doing and have always done, paid or not.  The picture must, for media purposes, tell the story and at a minimum, a caption should hold the bare bones of the story within the picture. There is , you may or may not know, the visible caption, but also the digital captioning wherein professional photographers embed contact details , copyright, terms and conditions , location and descriptions. All this  within the actual image file to internationally agreed formula called IPTC captioning.  Thus, when  a series of your  image files “lands ”  on the pciture editor’s desk, images are viewed with programs like “Fotostation” and thus no mistakes are made about whose work it is, what the picture is about and equally important ,  where to send the cheque !

IAM NOTHING SPECIAL BUT YOU ARE.

Twenty five years as a special educator working so often with vulnerable and damaged inner city kids with learning difficulties and self-worth issues, call me Mr Positive. Whatever your ability you are someone special and we can do things and learn to feel good regardless of anything you have been told or negativity you have picked up from all your yesterdays. In that role, the camera was never far away. If you struggle with the logic and mechanics of spoken and written language, then a picture record of your achievement  helps overcome that and serves as a direct trigger to all the memories and experiences that are associated with those moments. And, for example, great to have a series of images from which to trigger those memories and say help kids talk and then write a sentence or two or speak about those things in a presentation. So what I am trying to say is that, to me everyone is special, and athletes for example are no different and neither, for example , are they merely players, but each is unique and diverse in character. Who they are and what they do, on and off the pitch is of endless interest for me and I hope some of that is obvious in the images i get and through the work I publish  or delivewr to my diverse clients .  People are inspiring, they do inspiring things because they believed and continue to believe. In classical Greek culture, athletes were the role models and they remain so today through their chosen life style and quest for excellence  and embracing the endless challenge against the doubting self.

THE SUN WILL RISE AGAIN IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN- an afterword

Who could not have been moved so relatively recently by the disaster in Japan, its impact , the tragedy and apparent hopelessness of it but above all ,  the quiet, well disciplined grace and  dignity of , it seems , an entire nation?  We bear, in our heads, national stereotypes of different nations and races but I hope , that , for example, through greater interaction afforded  by social network platforms  those preconceptions are challenged and through them, while we can celebrate small cultural differences, we can also celebrate the human similarities that bind us as a global family if we are open to that.  And for that endeavour the picture truly does paint a thousand words and langauge need not be a  barrier. We were born with eyes and ears in pairs and but a  single mouth- and our eyes are front and centre – our lives are lived in pictures directly in front of us and in our dreams and imaginings.  And so, as a tribute to the Japanese , I selected field hockey related images for this blog item and the wonderful memories they brought back for me. Who knows if friends or relations of some of the players have been affected by the disaster and while the press may feature the aftermath less, we  shouldn’t forget the vastness of the task ahead for those people who now need to rebuild their lives. I recall the debutants of the Japanese lacrosse men’s team at the World’s in Manchester where the young side played valianlty with boundles courage and enthusiasm against far more experienced opposition. I was so moved   how many of the players wept openly when they were beaten. There was simply no dishonour in the final score- they had the moral victory. But, they all walked over to the fans and bowed graciously and applauded those applauding them. We can learn a thing or tow from guys like that .

And to leave you, not with a few shots of playing action this time around, as I am more than just a sport tog (  !  ) – my passion is people. So just a glimpse , an informal portrait, taken at a discreet distance with a long lens, to record ( but not to intrude) , showing  a range of joyful emotion in the faces of this small group of hockey players after their win over the mighty USA.  Before the game, the entire squad went , unashamedly , through an almost military style long warm up drill in unison while the “Yanks”  played football !

Sisters and the joy of a win expressed in different ways.

田中: ありがとうございます。 Tanaka: Thank you.

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