Mark Messier hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head in 1994 after breaking the Rangers' 54-year "curse"; Jesse Orosco falling to his knees as the New York Mets clinched the '86 World Series; Pope John Paul II lifting up a young girl in an emotional moment during his first visit to the U.S.; Muhammad Ali taunting a restrained Joe Frazier days before their first official fight. . .
These are but a handful of the pivotal moments that Madison Square Garden photographer George Kalinsky (www.georgekalinsky.com) has been immortalizing for almost 40 years. "People say I've captured more of these moments than any other photographer," Kalinsky says. "I'm always looking for those moments. I took a picture of [New York Knick] Patrick Ewing when the Knicks won the Eastern Division in 1996, with his arms up in the air. When I saw Patrick about a year ago, I asked him what ‘the moment' was of his career. He didn't say a word—he just held his arms up, like he had in the picture."
Part of the reason that Kalinsky's pictures are so compelling is his design and art background—he was a design student at Pratt Institute, where he honed his eye for imagery. Kalinsky strives to capture the feeling that lies behind every winning goal or final out.
"Capturing someone dunking a ball is not as important as the emotion after a game when people are jumping into each others' arms and shouting with joy, or sometimes crying in defeat," he explains. "It's more important to get the feeling of the game, the emotion of the crowds. I do that by looking at the eyes, the hands, the mouth. They all reflect the emotions and the personality."
Being one step ahead of his subjects has proved critical for Kalinsky. "Anticipation is a tremendous asset," he says. "Boxing, for instance, is the hardest sport to photograph—the speed of a fist is the fastest thing in sports. You have to anticipate it. This applies to concerts as well. Mick Jagger is probably harder to photograph than a goalie at a hockey game!"
VIPs and MVPs
Kalinsky's approach is the same, whether he's photographing a hockey team on the ice, documenting former U.S. Presidents Bush and Clinton, or shooting a U2 concert. "I love sports, but I don't look at photographing them from a sports point of view," he says. "I shoot sports the same way I would shoot a concert or a portrait. I try to capture the personalities in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.
"The most important thing is the relationship that you have with the person you're shooting," he continues. "You have to know what buttons to push to get those lights to turn on."
Some of those interactions and relationships have lasted a lifetime. "I was very close at one point with Frank Sinatra. I took some of his favorite photos," says Kalinsky. "Two nights before I took the ‘Blue Eyes at Ringside' picture (right), Sinatra walked into my office and said, ‘I hear you're a great photographer. I want you to tell me everything about photography in five minutes.' That five minutes turned into three hours, and that started a 30-year relationship that was really terrific. When he died, Tina Sinatra called me about another picture I had taken of him and said, ‘Of all the photos that have been taken of my father, that is the one that shows his essence more than any other photo.' I can't tell you what a reward that is for a photographer to hear that."
A person's charisma also helps bring out Kalinsky's best. It's not surprising to hear who reigns as his favorite subject of all time. "Muhammad Ali has been the most rewarding person I've photographed because he was so attuned to the camera," he says. "He was such a showman, and he had more charisma than any other athlete."
Kalinsky's favorite and most requested photo (right) was taken in early 1971, just days before Ali's first fight with Smokin' Joe Frazier. "It's the emotion in that photo that's important to me," he says. "I was photographing both of them alone in the gym, and when Ali decided to leave, I told him to go outside and just ham it up. He went outside and started saying to Frazier, ‘I'm gonna get you! I'm gonna get you!'"
Considering Kalinsky's awe of The Greatest, it's either serendipity or fate that it was Ali who jump-started Kalinsky's photography career in 1966.
"I was interviewing for a sports-cartoonist job with the Miami Herald," he says. "While walking down the street, I saw Muhammad Ali go into the Fifth Street Gym in Miami with Howard Cosell. Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, was at the door. He said, ‘You can't come in here unless you pay a dollar.' I don't know why I said what I said next: ‘I'm the photographer for Madison Square Garden.' He let me in. I was the only person in there other than the sparring partners, handlers, and Cosell. The Miami Herald used one of the pictures from that roll of film, and the next day, that picture of Ali was all over the world."
A week later, Kalinsky was back in New York City. He headed over to MSG, where he proudly showed president of boxing John Condon the film. "Condon said, ‘If you have the chutzpah to come to me with one roll of film, I have the chutzpah to hire you.' I became the photographer for the Garden."
He Shoots—He Scores!
Winner of PMDA's International Photographer of the Year award in 2001, Kalinsky is always involved in interesting projects. Charity work is high on his list. "After 9/11, I photographed the Concert for New York City," he says. "Nearly every major rock star was there. Just a few weeks ago, I shot From the Big Apple to the Big Easy, a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina." Kalinsky did montages for both. "Montages are easy for me. Before computers, I used to do them the old paste-up way. Now I do it all digitally."