Game Time: The Sports Photography of Walter Iooss

Colby Echo (Charlotte Marratta)

Collection of photos from the Colby College Museum of Art’s Game Time exhibit

Located in the Upper Jette Gallery, Game Time: The Sports Photography of Walter Iooss has been on display in the Colby College Museum of Art since Dec. 7, 2017.

The exhibit, a total of 43 photographs, was gifted by two pairs of collectors: Daniel and Kerry Tomson, and Cathy Delesky and Doug Wetmore. “We didn’t have sports photography represented in the museum’s collection of photographs. We thought this would have both popular and curricular appeal,” said Justin McCann, Lunder Curator for Whistler Studies. According to McCann, the exhibit has sparked great conversation from faculty, coaches, athletes, and non-athletes alike. “People have really enjoyed it. I’ve heard many people say, ‘I’m not an athlete but I really like this. I didn’t think I would, but I do.’ I think it’s the energy and thrill of the photographs that are really engaging,” commented McCann on the general reaction to the pieces. Each photograph is filled with power, dynamism, and action, whether it’s the moment right before NBA star Michael Jordan is about to dunk, or Olympic medalist Greg Louganis diving into a pool at twilight. The action within each photograph is stunning, capturing the strength and mechanics of the human body.

Walter Iooss got his first camera at the age of 16, and took his first photograph at a football game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Cardinals. After graduating high school in 1961, Iooss sent a portfolio to Sports Illustrated and was immediately hired as a photographer. Since then, more than 300 of Iooss’ photographs have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Iooss dedicated his life to capturing sensational moments from the most riveting games and successful athletes. Currently, the Super Bowl is the only event Iooss photographs, as he focuses now on individual portraits rather than game action shots. Having worked at all 52 Super Bowls, Iooss is quoted on the wall of the museum saying, “I’ve never watched the game on television, I’ve had one of the most unique experiences in sports.”

Iooss’ photography highlights the intersection between sports and society, and has greatly influenced sports photography today. While helping to establish this contemporary medium, Iooss’ photography has also established a way to consider broader social issues that transcend sports. “Muhammed Ali, for example, made a tremendous impact on society. He was a champion inside the ring and outside the ring in his role in the Civil Rights Movement. Through Iooss’ photography we see how sports bleed out of the field or out of the boxing ring,” McCann said. The photograph “Ali vs. Terrell, Houston” shows Ali mid-punch. The black and white image captures both the strength of the human body and the underlying emotion of Ali’s anger towards Ernie Terrell for refusing to accept his name as Muhammed Ali, which he changed from Cassius Clay after converting to Islam in 1964.

The collection of photographs represents tennis, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, football, and baseball. While many of Iooss’ photographs are of professional athletes, there are a handful of photographs of ordinary people and children playing sports. “The ones of children were actually some of his favorites,” said McCann. “For Iooss, sports represent hopes and dreams and aspirations. You can learn so much about yourself through playing sports and he really likes capturing that juxtaposition between professional and kid.”

While McCann’s favorite photograph changes each week, he made special note of “Sandy Koufax, 1965 World Series, Game 7” and “Johnny Unitas, Memorial Stadium, Baltimore.” The photograph of Koufax shows the baseball player atop the mound pitching the ball. Koufax was known for having an incredibly strong fastball, the power and energy of which are captured in this image, reminding sports fans of Koufax’s awe-inspiring talent as a pitcher. The photograph of Unitas has a very different feel to it, showing the Colts player walking off the field at dusk towards an empty stand. “There’s a sense of loneliness and sadness in this photograph. It was taken right at the end of his career,” said McCann. With his jacket flowing in the wind, Unitas exits the field just as he was soon to exit his career, his lone figure producing a sense of melancholy and loss in the spectator. The 43 photographs in this exhibit all convey an array of emotion, and invite viewers to reflect on the relationship between the body, sports, and society. On view until June 24.