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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-28

Decade Collection: David Burnett
'A little mysterious, a little questioning, somewhat simplistic perhaps in its composition. Those for me are the things that come alive in sport.'

By David Burnett

Photo by David Burnett

Photo by David Burnett
When I was in high school and then in college (Colorado College) I definitely thought of myself as a sports photographer. I probably thought of myself as a damn good one.

But in photography, as in most things in life, the more you begin to know about something, the more you realize you really don't know. At the age of 20, I was ready to work for Sports Illustrated (something which happened only very rarely in my actual grown up life), but somehow I ended up doing more newsy, political stories, and sports was always a little something special which I now and then got to dip my pen into.

In 1984 I was accredited for my first Olympics (Los Angeles), shooting for TIME, and a number of European magazines (ah, the good ole' days!) and ended up with the picture that became my most published image. Mary Decker, writhing in pain in the women's 3000m final, after her collision with British/South African runner Zola Budd. Because it was one of those things which was not meant to happen, it became more than a sports statistic. It was a moment of "news." The picture got great play, and for once, I did actually think of myself as a "sports photographer."

It didn't really last very long, that feeling. Even at those times when I would work on the Olympic Games (all the summer games since 1984, and Salt Lake City Winter in 2002) most of my pictures would end up being something less than a great action picture. I was still trying to find something inside that sports match, something which might be of a nobody (most often) or the favorite (far less) which had a photographic, pictorial, visual quality to it that would last beyond the event of that moment. I fully admit that as an action photographer I am pretty lousy.

So maybe it was because of that fault, the trouble I had with those peak action moments, that I started looking in other directions. Finding other evidence of sport in ways that still connected with a viewer, even though it may not be The Winner at The Finish Line.

The picture I submit here, a ski jumper at the 2002 Winter Games really is my kind of picture, the ones I hope to make. A little mysterious, a little questioning, somewhat simplistic perhaps in its composition. Those for me are the things that come alive in sport.

The chance to see those amazing juxtapositions of shape, and energy, and form.

(David Burnett is a freelance photographer based in Washington D.C. You can see his member page here:

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