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|| News Item: Posted 2006-11-16

'Bagger Vance,' 'The Zone' and Shooting Sports
By Patrick Murphy-Racey

Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey

Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey
In one of sports great movies, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Will Smith plays the caddie for Matt Damon's character, Rannulph Junuh. Junuh's character is a former amateur golf champion that goes to war and comes back a broken, alcoholic man who has given up on everything in life. Vance walks out of the mist one night as Junuh, in a drunken stupor, tries to drive for the first time in years in the darkness. Bagger Vance encourages Junuh to try "to find his one true and authentic swing," one that is unique to him alone. Then Vance spends time with Junuh and continues to spread this "good news" to Junuh, which spills into all aspects of his life.

Junuh gets teamed up against golf's greatest icons of the day in SC in a moment in time when everyone wanted to forget the great depression for a long weekend round of an historic exhibition game.

Each weekend, many of us on suit up and head out to the field or the court. We set our apertures, shutter speeds, we shoot warm-ups as we try to warm up ourselves, and then the whistle blows.

Michael Jordan once spoke about finding "the zone." He spoke of this as not a place but of a state of mind where his body and all its senses converged into one thing that was in sync with the game in which he was participating. He's talking about mystery; that is to say the mystery and potential in each of us that is there but is ever elusive.

We sometimes pull our face away from a play that is impossible to capture, and yet there it is on the LCD. Or we look somewhere down-court and for some reason we check out the bench just when a coach goes nuts, and just like that, we've captured a moment that is special.

Like Junuh's character, we each step out onto the field of sport to capture something unique and special. Competition starts when we try to out-do our competitors or the people we work with at the paper. But a deeper more mystical competition is a far greater endeavor: to shoot against ourselves. Trying to cover sports day after day can become rote and even tedious. But when you dig down deep, take risks, and begin to think outside the box in terms of what and how you're shooting, things happen.

Back in the 90's, I had the humbling privilege to shoot football with some of the greatest contemporary people of our time in my seven-year rush of working for Sports Illustrated as a "B level" guy in the South. I won't mention their names because you already know them. I tell you, walking out onto the field of play knowing you're part of a team of three other photographers all trying to shoot at the highest level is a rush. Because of the web, it's now possible to see virtually everyone else's great stuff from a game. But do we take the time to do that? We should.

Next I'll be shooting Tennessee at Arkansas football. On Sunday evening, I'll sit down at the computer right after editing my own take from that game, and I'll jump on Google and find at least five newspapers back in AR and look for new media slide shows, and their best images from that contest. Part of this process simply keeps me honest. I'm not omnipotent and I can't be in two places at once in a game. But I'm desperate to see what others shot. I want to learn something from every game as it will help raise my own stock as a photographer. It's been said by many that "it's all been shot before." That's true but have I shot it all?

We should all be trying to find our own authentic swing each time we walk onto the field of play whether we work for a weekly community paper, or even Sports Illustrated. None of us exist in a vacuum, we are a communal group who spend a lot of time together. When one of us excels, it helps the rest of us do the same.

We each have a responsibility to our employers to do a good job, but a far greater responsibility to ourselves will yield better performance for both us and them.

So, as the ebb and flow of sports photography moves from football and heads towards hoops, let's take an extra few seconds each assignment and try to imagine taking some risks and allowing ourselves to stretch and grow more each day. Each of us has our own unique and authentic swing. The whistle is about to blow...

(Patrick Murphy-Racey is a freelance photographer based near Knoxville, TN. You can see examples of his work at his member page: and his personal website:

Related Links:
Murphy-Racey's member page
Murphy-Racey's personal site

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