To give you a sense of the camaraderie amongst the staff of the Sports Photography Workshop, consider that on the morning of Mark Reis’ presentation of his work to the students, his mother passed away. Yet, there was Reis standing before us that night, fighting off the emotion of the moment, lifting our spirits by sharing the grandeur of his work along with his home-spun stories for the local Colorado Springs Gazette.
In the moments when Reis needed to be surrounded by people who care for him deeply, why not be with the people you see above. Anyone that knows Reis agrees he is the “kindest person you could ever meet.” Reis worked with students throughout the week, all the while thinking of his mother, who every year sat in the audience of the Olympic Training Center Auditorium filled with pride over her son’s show.
There is a passage from the book of James that Laura and I believe with all our hearts that I highlight during my presentation.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”
Reis standing there was just one of many gifts from above that blessed me during the week. I feel compelled to share some of them with you in thanks to my Father in heaven. Since 2006, my week in Colorado Springs provides me with some of the greatest joys of the year often documented on this blog. The men and women, instructors and students, challenge me to be better and renew my spirit for another year of work at KU. As the oldest staff member, save for the event’s creator and leader Rich Clarkson, I know one day my time at this workshop will end, but I so hope and pray that day will be many years from now. Lest you think I am just an old man growing sadly sentimental, let me share a few stories that might help you understand my feelings.
This year the students were some of the best. There was a gentleman from the Philippines, where basketball is the number one sport. A young woman, specializing in horse racing photography, flew to Colorado from Australia. The number of women grew dramatically. An influx of younger photographers brought fresh outlooks and friendly competition making the daily critiques of their work delightful. People wanted to learn and improve.
While it is great to be able to show my work each year in one of the evening sessions and more in a morning session, the true joy comes in working with the students. For one week, none of my cameras come out of the travel case.
During the week, students joined me at the Olympic Training Center for Greco-Roman wrestling practice, Olympic weight lifting twice and judo practice. The cycling velodrome is annually on my teaching list. This year I helped students explore the use of DynaLite strobes for high-speed action. The Rocky Mountain State Games youth triathlon found me arriving at a local lake by 5:30 in the morning to get a feel of the event course before the students arrived. An afternoon helping students at the State Games diving competition closed out a long Saturday. Other instructors spread throughout Colorado Springs or taught at the hotel.
During my visit to the Greco-Roman wrestling training room, an older photographer named Bob seemed overjoyed by my efforts to help him see the opportunities to make solid action photographs in a room littered with mats and cluttered backgrounds. With two solid photographs in his camera, Bob asked whether he could continue to follow me from one event to another. We found a good angle in the weight room for a picture before he followed me to the judo area.
By now it was past seven o’clock. An hour later, during the evening presentation by Seattle Seahawks photographer Rod Mar, Bob suddenly collapsed. As I leaped over rows of seats trying to get to Bob, one of the other students, an emergency room doctor, quickly took control. With a hospital just west of the Olympic Training Center, Bob was in good hands. That news allowed Mar to continue his photographic review of the Seahawks near-Super Bowl victory and the fascinating coaching outlook of Pete Carroll. Sports Illustrated featured Carroll on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week with a Mar photograph.
By evening’s end, Bob was back at the hotel after fluids relieved his severe dehydration. The next morning Bob told me, “I kept thinking I might not get to show the photographs you helped me with yesterday.” A hug followed along with a prayer of thanks for Bob’s health and his kind words. Now, that did not stop the friendly jokes from staffers over how Mar almost killed someone with his show.
The Sports Illustrated connection to the Workshop remains one of the event’s cornerstones. Senior picture editor Marguerite Schropp viewed countless portfolios, a key component of the week for the staff. She, also, offered up incentive for the students to submit their work in the future for the magazine’s consideration.
When a sudden family health issue forced long-time Workshop staffer and SI contributor, John McDonough, to miss the week, Schropp called upon another SI regular, David Klutho, who quickly packed and flew from St. Louis to cover for his fellow photographer. Klutho known as “Mr. Hockey” for his amazing coverage of the winter sport instead put together a show that kept everyone captivated thanks to his unreal 3D sports photography.
Deanne Fitzmaurice’s work included her Pulitzer-Prize-winning documentary of a young man, who as a child lost his hands, and suffered other severe injuries, after he and his brother picked up a ball that actually was a bomb in war-torn Iraq. Brought to the United States, the boy’s story, through Fitzmaurice’s photography, traced recovery, family reunion, life adjustments and now even high school graduation. No, it was not a sports story like she showed on Barry Bonds or Tim Lincecum, but who could care as one sublime photo after another appeared on-screen.
Lucas Gilman delivered photographs much more grandiose thanks to his globe-trotting adventure photography. Should you ever wonder how it feels to photograph a kayak ride down a massive waterfall deep in a Mexican jungle while trying to pay off rebels surrounding you with machetes, then Gilman is your man. His photographs are jaw dropping, and his sequential work truly gives everyone a feel for the long and dangerous drops. The fact he now lives in the Central Coast of California, where he photographs surfing, well there’s another gift. We already have plans to take our grandson, Jake, to a skateboard camp in Pismo Beach when he turns five, while I’ll try to photograph some serious surfing with Gilman should his schedule permit.
Of course the bear hug from Keith Ladzinski alone made up for his far too brief appearance at the Workshop. Ladzinski’s story of picking up a camera to photograph his skateboarding buddies which eventually led to him becoming one of the greatest climbing photographers in the world, and now National Geographic’s go-to climbing photographer and video producer, is fabulous. His appearance came less than a day after arriving home from a major project in Finland that left him so worn out and jet-lagged, he had to be driven home by his fiancée.
Ladzinski’s jump in front of our car four years ago in the Training Center parking lot shocked us, but not as much as his wonderfully sincere chastisement of my self-deprecating style when discussing my photographic work. Since Laura chastised me for the same on as we walked to our car that night, I took this as a profound reality check for a needed positive change. I mean how can I not when someone I admire so much as a person and a photographer called my work “mind melting.”
The staff rookie, Andrew Hancock, is a rising star whose work crosses between editorial and commercial. Laura and I had dinner with him the night of his show. His nerves were on full display. Sitting there I thought back to my rookie year. After the first night, I told Laura I had no business being there trying to hold my own amidst so many talented photographers. Somehow, with God’s help, I did just as Hancock did. I am sure we will see and hear much more from him.
Of course, none of this could happen without Rich Clarkson. The workshops he offers are a logistical nightmare. All of them are very hands-on with the instructors setting aside their personal needs for the good of the students. Coordinating all this is Chris Steppig, a former walk-on football player at KU during the Mark Mangino coaching years. I believe that steeled him for the tasks he now faces as workshop coordinator and a Vice President at Clarkson Creative in Denver. I admire how he and his staff handle everything.
The photographs that accompany this story come from Mark Mahan, a former student who now photographs the workshop for Clarkson and Steppig. Every small task falls to him, but it certainly helps that Mahan fits into the category of being one of the nicest people you ever could meet. Which brings me now to the folks I call “the core.” Each has influenced me greatly with their extraordinary talents and even greater kindness. Their friendship means more than I could ever explain in a blog.
Never will I be known for my technical expertise, but as I always tell the students at the workshop, “Ask Bob Smith.” He is a genius with everything Mac, PC, with servers, digital storage, show programs and much more than I could know. While he plays a bigger photographic role in other Summit Workshops, Smith puts his cameras away for the sports workshop to technically help the 53 students in need, along with instructors like me. Smith befriended me immediately in my first year and that kindness will never be forgotten. How I wish I could travel with Smith to Africa or Alaska where he is at the forefront of a workshop helping students explore the great and wild outdoors.
Trying to quantify how many gifts Jody Grober has given me over the years is impossible since I cannot remember when I started to buy all my photography gear from Grober at Roberts Camera in Indianapolis. The biggest gift is the fact Grober is completely nuts. We seem to mesh perfectly. Grober brings all his distributor friends to the Workshop to provide the great goodies every photographer needs. This year, my biggest gift from Grober was a deal on DynaLite Baja strobes. Then, he convinced Peter Poremba, President of DynaLite, to come to Colorado, which allowed me the opportunity to show how I use the strobes for my work. That resulted in some very special Baja gifts as the week concluded and an important new relationship for the future.
In my first year, Clarkson spoke of a former gymnast turned photographer as part of his introduction for Dave Black. As the introduction concluded, Black raced down the aisle nailing a cartwheel that left him standing perfectly at the podium. What I came to understand is that Black probably charted his exact take off spot and the distance needed to awe us all. In every aspect of his work, Black studies, plots, charts and conceives ways to make photographs few can match. His Olympic coverage is legendary, his light painting magnificent. There is so much more. Yet, he gives everything away in the same detailed manner he used to chart the Olympic skating routine of Michelle Kwan.
Black pulled me aside that first year to thank me for my work in a long discourse on my entire show. Dave Black thanking me is a memory never forgotten. His faith and emotions are always fully open and on the surface in life and during his show. Last year he looked at my work with the KU baseball team during their charitable trip to the Dominican Republic in 2012. He missed the Workshop the year I first showed the piece. He closed my laptop, and with tears welling, told me to show that piece every year. I did this year in my second show. The results happily were much the same for the students.
Without Joey and Mark Terrill, the workshop would never be the same. Two brothers that clearly love each other and revel in each others success, but two brothers that are also very different in their outlooks on life and photography. We try to start each workshop with a BBQ dinner the night before the Workshop that covers so much ground we end up closing the joint.
Both Mark and Joey live north of Los Angeles. Mark is the Associated Press’ finest sports photographer. As the largest worldwide photographic supplier, every event Mark covers for the AP requires a wide selection of images. To do this, Mark perfected his remote camera setups. Each year, I learn something new from Mark in this area and try to apply it to my work at KU where Laura and I must do much the same.
Rhonda Rousey is currently one of the hottest names in sports. Her Ultimate Fighting Championships are legendary for the speed with which she dominates her opponents. In February, she won a fight in 14 seconds. Mark covered the match, and in those 14 seconds made so many photographs, through various cameras, that Mark dominated other photographers in Rousey-like fashion.
Joey turned away from news photography and through his understanding of light, both natural and artificial, found a way to fully express himself as a photographer. Since so many of the students are trying to find their niche in photography, or make changes in their lives to advance their photography, Joey’s highly personal and deeply heartfelt presentation proved to be profound. He backed it up with detailed week-long lighting sessions that helped students absorb skills they never thought possible. I know, because I try to squeeze in classes every year.
Of course, at the heart of my core is Laura. Her photo work improved so much this past year that I included her work as part of the full show. I no longer speak just for me but for both of us. Laura supports me in so many ways during the week as she does in all my life. Whether it is members of the staff or students, everyone loves to open up to Laura. She knows all the details on every aspect of the week. There is no greater joy than to go through the week with Laura as a gift beside me.
To be asked to lead off the speakers on the first night, a spot event founder Rich Clarkson held for years, left me feeling like a guest-host for the legendary Johnny Carson. To me and the rest of the staff, Clarkson is that legendary. To recognize that honor, I dressed in suit and tie to say thanks to Clarkson. We used to dress that way in my Topeka days. My time with Clarkson spans 46 years since he hired me as an 18-year-old high school senior. Over those years, I probably have spent more time with him than anyone. Everyone that knows Clarkson understands that is not always easy. Yet, I still can’t thank him enough for all he has done for my career.
Let me close with two final gifts from the week. During an afternoon of portfolio reviews on the final day, a student surprised me by walking into the room for my fourth review without a laptop or book to show. He sat down and told me he came not to talk photography but to ask about my Christian faith, a subject always weaved into my presentations. He outlined his difficult life, his faith, his worries and doubts. The opportunity to share the role my Savior plays in the life Laura and I share truly was a gift from above and such a joy.
As Mark Reis continued his presentation on that fateful evening, the final member of “the core” as usual had fun joking over the odd things I do and say during the week. I always look upon his jokes as a sign of the respect between us and enjoy the good fun. However, this year Reis continued in a serious tone. To the students he called me “the hardest working photographer in America.” That already was a wonderful gift, but he continued on reminding the group that he was showing the best photographs from his long career while every year in my main show, the photographs come solely from the past school year.
While I surely do not deserve such praise, I truly was thankful the lights were low, and we were sitting close to the front. No one saw Laura’s and my tears or the thanks I offered up to Reis and to my Savior for the great gift that is the Sports Photography Workshop. My thanks go out to the wonderful people who make this such a joyous week filled with so many gifts from above. Thank you for letting me share this story with you.
To view the work of the staff members, please click on their name: Dave Black, Rich Clarkson, Deanne Fitzmaurice, Lucas Gilman, Andrew Hancock, Keith Ladzinski, Mark Mahan, Rod Mar, Mark Reis, Bob Smith, Joey Terrill, Mark Terrill, Marguerite Schropp. David Klutho’s 3D site is under construction for the fall at 3d-illustrated.com. The fifth of his 3D books, Animal Adventure 3D, will be available then as well. Hopefully, you will also have interest in attending one of annual Summit Series of Photography Workshops.