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Walter Iooss: Living a Sports Photographer's Dream



If you think photographing sports superstars and swim suit models sounds like the greatest job in the world, Walter Iooss, Jr., is the first to agree with you.

Living a sports photographer's dream, Iooss has shot the cover of Sports Illustrated some 230 times, most recently for the November 8, 2004, issue, featuring World Series Boston Red Sox stars Johnny Damon, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling.

Other Iooss cover standouts include tennis superstar Serena Williams, basketball superstar Kevin Garnett, baseball 500-home run hitter Ken Griffey, Jr., boxing champs Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (p. 14), PGA teen golfer Michelle Wie (above), and superstar wide receiver Terrell Owens (p. 15).

THOSE SWIMSUIT COVERS

No question, Iooss' fame has been bolstered by his eight SI swimsuit covers. This past spring, he shot the SI swimsuit cover and 14-page section featuring models Veronica Varekova (p. 13), Jessica White, Elsa Benitez, and Yamila Diaz-Rahi. "I love photographing the girls," he says. As for his wife Eva, "at first shooting models was tough on her, but she's getting less jealous," he says.

Although he never wearies of photographing models, or waking up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to prepare for photo shoots, Iooss says the swimsuit experience has changed dramatically over the years. Early on, just a few people would join him on a shoot. Nowadays, Diane Smith, Sports Illustrated's swimsuit editor is there, as well as makeup artists, writers, video camera crews who cover the shoots for documentaries, occasional visits from "Entertainment Tonight" and "Extra," and others.

Iooss covers about four shoots in the morning with another couple in the afternoon. He works on swimsuit issues for a maximum of 10 days, but the issue itself takes four months to complete. As for advice for great swimsuit photographs, Iooss simply states, "They must fit into their environment." He adds that being featured in the swimsuit issue is a tremendous step for models hoping to reach their ultimate goal: winning cosmetics contracts.

CAPTURING HISTORY

Many sports fans will tell you that Iooss' January 18, 1982, Sports Illustrated cover photo is one of the most famous sports photographs ever captured. With the headline "The Super Catch: Dwight Clark's Touchdown Beats Dallas," the image depicts Clark, then San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, catching a pass at the zenith of his leap from quarterback Joe Montana. The touchdown sunk the Dallas Cowboys for the season and stamped the 49ers ticket to a Super Bowl XVI matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Recalling the historic photo, he says, "With my Canon 35mm around my neck, I cradled the 600mm on the monopod, hit my index finger on the motor, and saw people moving. Batt, tat, tat. I had the photo." It was a bittersweet moment for Iooss. "I covered the Cowboys the whole season," he says, "so it was disappointing when Clark made the catch."

When asked what he thinks defines his images or makes his work distinctive, he pauses then says plainly, "I just shoot." And he shoots in whatever format the job requires, from 35mm to large-format, and digital when it makes sense.

"Shooting digital is great when you have to do something quickly," says Iooss, and he adds, "SI prefers digital editing."

But he still prefers film. "Film looks better," he states. He used film many times to capture his favorite athlete, Michael Jordan (below). "He is so graceful. He looks good doing everything."

Iooss, who collaborated on the book Rare Air: Michael on Michael in the 1990s, shares one of his favorite anecdotes. "Michael beat me 2-1 in a nine-inning game of stickball. I struck him out once. We played with a tennis ball and Michael wore his Chicago White Sox jersey (Jordan played baseball in the White Sox minor league system for a short time). If you ask Michael, he'll remember it."

What events does he prefer covering above all? The Wimbledon tennis championship in England tops his list. "People are so polite there," he says. "It makes you want to be polite." He shares a special bond with one former king of the Wimbledon court, Bjorn Borg. Iooss named his son Bjorn, now 24, after the five-time Wimbledon champ.

"I remember playing doubles with Bjorn against the number 1 and 2 players in Antigua," Iooss recalls. "Of course, they didn't want to hit the ball to Bjorn, so I had to make a lot of shots. Bjorn sent me a note shortly thereafter that said, 'Thanks for carrying me today.'"

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