One of the most intense yet rewarding weeks of my year is my time as an instructor at the annual Sports Photography Workshop held in Colorado Springs. The 28th edition of this popular workshop concluded July 2. What an honor to work with fabulous photographers and to help so many students with their photographic hopes and dreams.
At the concluding Friday dinner, the staff and students rose to applaud the man behind it all – the great Rich Clarkson. Every person there owes so much to Clarkson for all he has done for photojournalism. None owe more than me, but that’s not important right now.
What is important is that Clarkson continues to be a great photographer, leader, teacher and friend. His moniker as the “Dean of Photojournalism” is backed up by some of the most extraordinary photographers ever. The Pulitzer Prize, National Photographer of the Year and many other illustrious awards fill the resumes of many of the photographers that passed through Topeka, Kansas, and what was once the best photo newspaper in the United States, the Topeka Capital-Journal.
With all the work Clarkson has done to help others, it is often overlooked that he was a groundbreaking photographer who began his professional career in high school in Lawrence and took it to great heights with his work for Sports Illustrated. After leaving Topeka, Clarkson’s teaching and leadership continued at National Geographic, the Denver Post and now through multiple workshops tied to his Denver-based company Rich Clarkson and Associates, Inc.
For the last four years I have been honored with an invitation to join an elite group of photographers as a presenter and instructor. I say elite not because of their extensive photo skills. That is a given, as you will see. They are elite because of their complete willingness to work tirelessly and closely with the students at the workshop. Egos are set aside as everyone gives freely, and a bond grows making the week very special.
In his opening comments, Clarkson made it clear he likes to invite instructors that are his friends, and I am so pleased that they have become my friends. Let me introduce them to you.
The Terrell brothers, Mark and Joey: Both brothers started their professional careers in their teens shooting for the Los Angeles Times. The elder Joey told a funny story how for years Mark was referred to as “Joey’s brother.” Today, that has been changed to him being “Mark Terrell’s brother.”
Mark has become the premiere Associated Press sports photographer. Based out of LA, Terrell arrived in Colorado Springs after wrapping up the NBA finals. Terrell travels the world for the biggest events. Mark is renowned for his underwater photography at the summer Olympics and World Swimming Championships. The use of remotes makes Mark’s presentations and advice on remote setups extremely popular. Over the years, I have sat in on those presentations to further my skills.
Joey left daily photojournalism and has become one of the preeminent portrait photographers in the nation. His attention to detail in his lighting technique is amazing. No one shames me more with his skills during the week. I sit and study his photos for any little details I can find. His work has improved my lighting skills that still fall miles short of Joey’s. Many magazines like Golf Digest use Joey for spectacular views of exotic courses around the world. He recently completed a major project on the new University of Minnesota football stadium and will be doing individual portraits in numerous settings of each All-Star at baseball’s big event next week. Joey always goes through his lighting setups with the students in great hands-on detail during his sessions at the Workshop.
The Buckeye Brigade, Amy Sancetta and Charles Rex Aborgast: The two Associated Press photographers are absolute delights. They both honed their skills while attending The Ohio State University. I met Charlie while shooting two OSU games in Columbus in the early 80’s during my work with the Arizona Republic. Besides his sports work for AP in Chicago, Charlie is a noted political photographer. He worked closely with former Sen. Bill Bradley and followed President Obama’s campaign all over the country. Charlie can string some long sentences together in his exuberance to share all he can with the students, but his efforts are always sincere. His desire to help with anything makes him a very special staff member.
Amy now works for AP out of Cleveland. It is impossible not to like Amy, and I am very pleased that we have become very good friends since she joined the staff two years ago. She might be short of stature, but her work stands tall against any others. She has covered 11 Olympics and The US Open tennis tournament every year. After one of those Opens, she stayed in New York to relax and take in a play. That day of rest became a rather historic 11-day stay as she raced from her hotel to the twin towers on 9/11. Her resulting images are still just as chilling. Yet, she loves showing pictures of her dogs that have everyone oohing and ahhing.
The Daring Young Man, Keith Ladzinski: Keith joined the group last year and is a regular at Clarkson’s other workshops for travel and adventure photography. In a short time, he has become one the most highly acclaimed adventure photographers anywhere. Looking at his work, I am both amazed and honestly terrified. Whether it is on rock or ice, Ladzinski defies all logic with his ability to climb into positions to make his dazzling images. I assisted him one afternoon at the local skate park. He fits in so perfectly with the riders. One of his high school friends ripped trick after trick for the students who got Keith’s enthusiastic directions. Ladzinski’s girlfriend, Lauren, is one of the best rock climbers in the area and willingly made climb after climb for the students to photograph in the Garden of the Gods.
The Power Brokers, Brad Smith and James Colton: Every student at the Workshop wanted some face time with these two and justifiably so. Brad Smith is the sports photo editor of the New York Times. In the changing world of newspaper photography, having a list of good photographers throughout the country is important for Smith. He hires many photographers for important jobs. In his critiques, Smith is always spot on. He is quick to praise yet ready to constructively criticize. A regular at the Workshop, Smith has found many students that have gone on to be regular contacts for assignments. I am very proud to have sent two students this year to him that I believe will get work.
Meanwhile, trying to get James Colton to the event was a task. Delayed flights almost kept him from appearing for the first time. How sad that would have been. Colton edits the “Leading Off” section of Sports Illustrated. The two page spreads that cover six to eight pages each week are highly coveted by all photographers. Colton looks through over 5,000 images a week. Do that for a while, and you will quickly develop an eye for images that jump off the pages.
The highlight of his presentation was a moving photo gallery of soccer images taken around the world for the magazine’s World Cup preview issue. The “Beautiful Game” never looked more wonderful than it did in the stunning photos of young and old, man and woman, poor and battered playing the game they love with religious passion. Set to a wonderful vocal of “The Lord’s Prayer,” the photos flashed on the screen with brilliance that stirred the soul.
The Hoarder, Bob Smith: Want to know how to save your images, store them in a logical manner and provide yourself with critical backup, then Bob Smith is your man. An accomplished photographer in his own rite, with a book just out on Antarctica, Smith devotes his time at the Workshop to the dull business of digital image storage. It helps that Bob is one of the nicest men you’d ever want to meet. He actually makes talk about terabytes fun, and that is saying something.
The Everyman, Mark Reis: Mark takes me back to my roots as a staff photographer in Topeka. Mark’s work for the Colorado Springs Gazette covers the full spectrum. From spot news to features, illustrations to photo stories, Mark is a very solid photographer. Since he works in city that is home to the Olympic Training Center, he has also been fortunate to cover multiple Olympic Games. It is amazing to see how many locales Mark hustles to during the Games. Once there, he makes photos that stand up against any better-known photographers. Mark’s weekly high school athlete of the week photographs are stunning and a real lesson for me. They are so popular that athletes await Mark’s arrival with thoughts and ideas on how they’d like to be photographed. That is ultimate respect.
The Freak, Richard Mackson: Some photographers can be very artistic while others are very technical in how they approach their craft. Rarely do the two mesh with quite the success of Richard Mackson. While working for Sports Illustrated in the 70’s and 80’s, Mackson found time to invent a color film processer that helped him open one of the biggest photo labs in the United States. When Kodak was struggling with the advent of digital photography, Mackson became an executive that helped reinvent one of our country’s largest corporations. His technical side helped him create a small pack that he could carry at a recent Olympics allowing him to instantly transmit his images to editors. His presentation left me inspired by his work and shaking my head at the complexity of the technology that will someday soon become commonplace.
The Franchise, Dave Black: It is quite humbling to listen as student after student introduced themselves on the first night and reference their interest in Dave Black’s work as the reason for their attendance. Dave’s work is truly stunning. He sees color like few others can. He also sees and uses light to his advantage like few others can. His horse racing and golf coverage is brilliant. Dave has taken the idea of light painting to extreme heights. In total darkness, Dave moves around scenes spotlighting areas he wants lighted as the camera set for very long exposures soaks in the vision. The results are truly dramatic.
Dave is also a skilled promoter. His web site is one of the most popular photo sites on the web. He willingly shares all his techniques on the site and in his presentations. The only problem I have ever found trying some of this is that I don’t quite have Dave’s eye for the details that make him so great. That’s fine because Dave is also one of the kindest men I have ever met and a true favorite of my wife and me.
The Legend, Bill Eppridge: On any list of the greatest photojournalists of all time the name Bill Eppridge will always be there and often on top. In the glory days of Life Magazine in the 60’s, Bill took on all the toughest and grittiest assignments. When he wasn’t covering the never-to-be-matched scene at Woodstock, Eppridge worked and slept under the stage. He portrayed for the first time middle class drug use and other alternate life styles in shockingly dramatic style. He led an admitted hard and fast life. Today health issues have left him bowed and stooped and in need of a cane.
Yet every day, I would suddenly realize that Bill was there with a camera, his cane hanging from his arm while he took photos of all of us working with the students. I have no idea how long he had been there, but I loved his smile as he reviewed the photos he had made. What I wouldn’t give for a photo of myself from one of those quiet moments.
Bill was a special guest at this year’s Workshop. In his presentation, Bill showed the amazing photographs he made of Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1966 and then again in 1968 when Kennedy ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Too many people are too young now to remember the Kennedy mystique. Yet, somehow, Eppridge’s photographs speak with deep resonance to that mystique and are easy to sense for someone like Laura who was born the same year Kennedy was assassinated.
Eppridge had unlimited access to Kennedy that today seems completely impossible. Without that access, he never would have been able to tell the story as well. Of course, that access also allowed him to make the truly tragic image of Kennedy laying shot and dying in the back hallway of a Los Angeles hotel after Kennedy had all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination.
After Bill’s stirring presentation, one of the students remarked to me that as the presentation was delivered, Bill seemed to stand more upright with each new photo and Kennedy story. Whether that was true or not, we all rose upright and gave the great man a roaring standing ovation.
The Tent Revivalist: Jeff Jacobsen: I always feel blessed in my work, career and life. My enthusiasm does shine through in my presentation. Charlie Arborgast suggested at the end of my presentation that, “We should have passed a hat.”
Amy Sancetta called me a “Dog.” Not D-A-W-G. Just D-O-G. You know the kind of dog that is always happy to see you, anxious to go anywhere and excited to have fun with his tail wagging all the way. I can live with that as I do try to have fun. I never take any of this for granted and keep that in mind when I present or work with students. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious.
The students this year were some of the best I have dealt with in my four years. They ranged in age from high school journalism students to the retired. They come from as far away as Dubai and Denmark. Some are truly hoping to make a career as sports photographers. Others only hope to make better pictures of their children, grand children and friends and want to learn from some of the best.
Thanks to the Olympic Training Center and the wide variety of outdoor activities that Colorado Springs has to offer, the photographers have plenty to photograph each day. They can be fully equipped by one of the sponsors, Nikon, and have access to lights, clamps and remote triggers thanks to the other sponsors that are organized by close friend Jody Grober of Roberts Distributor in Indianapolis.
Days start very early with the selection of images and the uploading of each student’s top three images. Instructors are there to help with the editing. Morning presentations follow and the instructors then critique the selected images from the 56 students. These are great sessions. They are well done by workshop organizer Brett Wilhelm and a true learning experience for all. It takes time, but it is the best part of the day. The students get so much better as the week progresses.
After a quick lunch, the early afternoon is filled with individual portfolio reviews. My throat gets so sore from talking during these hours, but the help and encouragement provided pays off when you see in a student’s eyes how much they appreciate the help.
Late afternoon, the instructors go to sites. I worked at the skate park, the local BMX track and the cycling velodrome. Certainly great spots for me. I wear myself out going from student to student offering what I can. We all then gather at the Olympic Training Center auditorium for the presentations in the evening. Getting back to the hotel late, the entire process starts over again the next day.
I always remember that 41 years ago Rich Clarkson gave a high school senior a unique and amazing opportunity. He and the other Capital-Journal greats worked with me and always had time for me. I owe them much. So, as long as I am asked, I’ll be there for the students at the Sports Workshop. It’s called paying back, and truly it is a special feeling.
To learn more check out the Workshop and Instructor Web Sites –