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Walter Iooss, Jr.: The Poet Laureate of Sports

Walter Iooss, Jr.: The Poet Laureate of Sports

Walter Iooss
Walter Iooss, Jr
Walter Iooss, Jr

Sports photography is its own animal, a genre usually undertaken as assignment work for newspapers and magazines that transcends in the right photographers lens. Walter Iooss, Jr. is one of the few that had skin in the game early on and ran with it all the way to multiple touchdowns.

Walter Iooss is the sports world’s most respected photographer and perhaps the single most successful sports photographer in advertising today. He has taken the art of the sport into new realms, his pictures of live action are complimented by his intimate portraits of the athletes themselves.

Walter Iooss has shot more than 300 Sports Illustrated covers (his first at the tender young age of 19), contributed to the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue for 30-plus years having shot some of the most popular supermodel covers and pictorials, and published 13 books including The New York Times #1 bestseller “Rare Air: Michael on Michael” in 1993, and “Heaven” in 2010.

As for corporate work he has shot campaigns for clients Coca-Cola, Adidas, Nike, Oakley, Canon, and Gatorade as well as the National Milk Council and Kellogg’s.

“Walter Iooss was all of 17 when he embarked on his photography career”

His first assignment was for Sports Illustrated. He was one of the first sports photogs to start running along the sidelines to catch the action while other photographers sat in a designated box. He began to capture not only unique photos of athletes catching, running, jumping, straining, hitting, but also getting different backgrounds than anyone else. Catching the light just so, the faces of the crowd, the other players. His famous images include Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Scottie Pippen, surfer Kelly Slater and more.

Tiger Woods By Walter Iooss
Tiger Woods By Walter Iooss

From 1968 through 1972, Walter Iooss had a high profile rock and roll gig as in-house photographer for Atlantic Records in New York, where his subjects included James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

“Photography is not a job. It’s a way of life,” he notes. “I live it, think it, and feel it. It’s just in my DNA. I’ve always felt the moment. People call me lucky, and luck is a wonderful attribute. But it’s more – it’s a sense somehow. It’s inexplicable, it happens. It’s a feeling and you just move into that direction. Someone once said that wherever I am is the perfect picture. I didn’t like the way it sounded but I believe that. It’s not that I’m positive of it deep down inside, it’s that I have to believe it. When you make that decision – ‘This is the place to go’ – you’ve got to live with it. There’s no alternative.”

He has had several retrospective exhibits. In the fall of 2009, the Newseum in Washington, DC, opened a major retrospective of his work titled “Athlete: The Sports Illustrated Photography of Walter Iooss.” The show was so successful that the museum extended it through January 2011.

“The action comes to him, and he never misses. No one shoots like him,” Sports Illustrated director of photography Steve Fine told a reporter.

Christie Brinkley by Walter Iooss
Christie Brinkley by Walter Iooss

The Palm Beach Photographic Centre has been offered the rare privilege to host Walter Iooss in their museum with an exhibition of his work that highlights his career, both portraiture, magazine covers and live sports shots of baseball, basketball, diving, football and some choice swimsuit model covers of young Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs and Kathy Ireland. This exhibit is curated by Scott McKiernan, CEO/Founder of ZUMA Press.

Another nice touch to the exhibit is the installation, as images are printed large and push pinned to the walls, rather than framed and mounted in a more formal way. This gives it a feel of fan’s ultimate man cave, where posters and tear sheets from magazines are tacked to the wall.

Walter Iooss is also an athlete himself, once a competitive tennis player who even participated in a doubles match with Bjorn Borg. Surfing grabbed him and his board, now he follows the waves with his sons Christian and Bjorn from his home in Montauk, Long Island, New York, in the summer and to the West Indies and the South Pacific in the winter.

The Palm Beach Photographic Centre has announced that Mr. Iooss is the 2016 recipient of its prestigious FOTOmentor award. His exhibition and lecture was the highlight of the Centre’s international FOTOfusion festival that took place January 19-23, 2016.

FOTOfusion FOTOmentor Award will be on view from January 21 to March 26, 2016 at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre located at 415 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401 and it is curated by Scott McKiernan, CEO/Founder of ZUMA Press.


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