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|| News Item: Posted 2003-03-02

Leading Off: Photographers become the story?
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times

Davis Love III gives Santa Rosa Press-Democrat photographer Kent Porter the ball after getting a birdie on the 12th hole at Pebble Beach.
It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it can be pretty spectacular.

Photographers like to stay (usually) in the background, recording the events around us --- unobtrusive, unnoticed and never, ever affecting the events that we are reporting on.

But once in a while … once in a great while … we find ourselves in the middle of an event we're covering. This happened recently to two fellow sports photographers (and good friends) Kent Porter and Jed Jacobsohn.

Kent made all the cable sports shows highlight reels when Davis Love III hit an errant tee shot on the 12th hole on the final day of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro -Am. Instead of bouncing into the gallery, the ball caromed off of Kent… turning a possible disaster into a birdie and an eventual one-stroke win over Tom Lehman.

"It's the first time in my life I ever had any part in sports history," Kent told a colleague from the paper he works for, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

Trying to stay out of the spotlight, despite the obvious affect he had on the score, Kent sheepishly tried to turn down Love's offer of the ball after he recorded the birdie on 12. ""I don't usually accept gifts. In this case, I guess I will," Porter said to columnist Lowell Cohn at the time.

While reporters and TV crews usually scramble after the winner (or Tiger Woods) at the conclusion of a PGA tournament, most went looking for "Birdie Boy" as other photographers called him after the incident.

"It couldn't be the guy that's 12 strokes off the lead," Porter told a newspaper later, "It has to be the leader."

But rather than holding court, milking his Fifteen Minutes of Fame, Kent rushed back to his hotel room to edit and transmit for his paper's deadlines.

Photo by Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times

Kent Porter with "The Ball."
The second incident involving a photographer, Getty Image's Jed Jacobsohn was featured prominently in a wire photo of Michael Jordan pumping his fist after sinking what could have been the winning shot in the NBA All Star game. While Jordan was celebrating … Jed was captured grimacing as Jordan lands on his leg!

"Washington Wizards Michael Jordan and the crowd react after his shot pulled the EAST ahead by two towards the end of the first overtime in the 2003 NBA All Star Game in Atlanta" said the caption.

Crowd reaction? It was poor Jed apparent yelling in pain as His Airness lands on his leg.

"When the actual moment happened", Jed told me recently, "I was more concerned that I was pretty much in the worst spot to make a picture of that shot. Then I felt the pain in my leg as his spanking new Air Jordans crushed my calf.

"I've gotten a lot of shit from our peers for this ever since it happened, but I still think it is kind of cool. It's a good random connection to the greatest basketball player ever."

The incident reminds me of a similar situation many years ago at an NBA Finals game in Portland. I was focusing on Jordan down court as he shot a baseline jumper and landed squarely on a wire photographer's 300mm laying on the baseline. As Jordan crumpled to the floor and the photographer scrambled to gather up the errant lens, my thought was "Oh shit … Jordan breaks his leg on a lens and we have to shoot the rest of the Finals from the cheap seats with 600s!"

All of us on the opposite end of the court groaned as Jordan had to be helped to the Bulls bench, hobbling the entire way. Fortunately it was just a mild sprain and he returned to the game about 15 minutes later. Afterward, there was no more worried and stressed photographer than that guy who had his 300 a little too close to the action.

While reporters and columnists we work with have their names splashed at the top of their work (why are our bylines smaller than reporters and always at the BOTTOM of our photos?) and we hear them pontificating on sports TV "round table" shows…we work in the anonymous background.

The incident at Pebble Beach caused network golf anchor Jim Nance to quip that Kent was "entirely too close to the green."


The PGA and the course director set up the ropes and determine the area photographers (and the spectators) can be and Kent was where he was supposed to be.

Maybe we need to get on network TV and bitch too the next time one of their camera-pointers is two feet in front of an athlete with a wide lens, not giving ANYONE else the shot.

Sorry…I didn't mean to get off on another one of my TV camera-pointer rants…

* * *

Photo by Joe Gosen

Photo by Joe Gosen

Judges for the 2002 Sports Shooter annual contest (L-R): Brad Mangin, Ronal Taniwaki, Deanne Fitzmaurice, Peter Read Miller and Robert Hanashiro.
Ordinarily a contest winner is a "once in a lifetime" photo … or is it?

I got more emails and comments from photographers about our selection for the Annual Sports Shooter Contest Picture of the Year … or rather, the Picture of the Year and another, similar one that was named a Judges Award.

The Picture of the Year was made by Keith Birmingham and shows San Francisco Giants outfield Reggie Sanders balanced on his head after missing a diving catch against the Dodgers.

But wouldn't you know it … the AP's Mark J. Terrill captured the same exact moment. Or did he?

The Sports Shooter Contest Judges (Peter Read Miller, Deanne Fitzmaurice, Ronal Taniwaki, Brad Mangin and yours truly) determined that though both appeared the same exact moment, Keith's frame had the ball lined up a little better with Sanders' eyes and that Mark's version was cropped too loose (and was probably made with a shorter lens).

Nit picking? Splitting hairs? Or why not award both Picture of the Year honors?

We debated long and hard on the images (as witnessed by the two dozen observers for the open judging session hosted by Nikon) … and we decided as a group that Keith's was just a much better photograph.

(Good thing Rick Rickman was unavailable for the judging …if he were I am sure we'd still be in Nikon's conference debating the two frames!)

Both photographs would be something ANYONE would want in his or her portfolio. But Keith had all of the stars and planets aligned that night at Dodger Stadium … meaning he had the right lens, the right timing and was in the right place to make an award winning photograph.

When I was consoling Mark on just getting a Judges Award for his image he probably summed up what good sports photography is all about when he said "At least I made the photo. (An unnamed photographer from the LA Times) was right next to me but he missed it because he was looking at someone in the stands!"

Photo by Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News

2002 Picture of the year.
(A side note on these images: In the monthly Greater LA Press Photog Association clip contest, Mark's was third in the sports category and Keith's an honorable mention! Of course look at first and second place … two non-action, moody sports features that cater to the PJ crowd and are in vogue at the "Three Initial Photo Contests". Oh well.)

* * *

This issue the Sports Shooter Newsletter has an article by Jose Luis Villegas about his long-term project on Latin Ball Players and trying to get a book published. It is a tribute to not only good photography and a singular vision… but also to not giving up and having lots of heart. Vince Laforet prepares all of you news hounds for war. Trent Nelson takes a shot at arena and stadium muzak. We have stories from Eric Risberg, Rod Mar and Robert Dall. Rick Rickman and PhotoDude check in with their regular columns.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on that monitor, turn up the Ahn Trio's version of "Riders on the Storm" and enjoy Sports Shooter v. 52.

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