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Sports Photographers Who Captured History

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 12/30/2010

Sports photographers, even famous ones, are mostly just doing their job capturing the essence of the game and exciting moments that sometimes make history. This list of famous sports photographers who captured awe-inspiring moments in sports history is just a small sampling of some of the greats.

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    The Sports Photographer

    Sports touch something in the spectator that goes beyond the game. When a nation’s spirits are low, the home team spirit uplifts fans and somehow helps people get through it all. Sports photographers have captured the hearts and minds of sports fans since the early 1900’s. They honed their craft and captured some of the greatest moments in sports history. They showed us the thrill of the winning, dignity in defeat and the limits of how far an athlete can push for the win. Sports photographers sit long hours waiting for that one shot that captures the spirit of the game. Being at the right place at the right time helps, but intuition is what sets the greats apart from the rest. Great sports photographers understand the game and have a sense of when something is about to happen. There are those moments of luck, but doggedly shooting every game, sitting in rain filled dugouts, frozen sidelines, honing their craft and being devoted to sports is what sports photography is all about and how the greats go about getting that shot.

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    Walter Iooss

    Walter Iooss was born in 1943 in Temple Texas. His family moved to East Orange, New Jersey where he spent his summers playing stickball. He went to Germain School of Photography in New York City. At 20, he shot his first cover shot for Sports Illustrated, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mart Mahaffey.

    He is best known for his work with Sports Illustrated and his portraits of famous athletes such as baseball great Roger Maris, golfing phenom Tiger Woods, basketball’s Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey, Jr, Cal Ripken and boxing legends Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier. During his 40-year career, Iooss has shot close to 300 cover shots for Sports Illustrated some of which include the swimsuit issues. Walter Iooss is one of the most famous sports photographers of the 20th century.

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    Charles Conlon

    Charles Conlon is the most famous baseball photographer. He was born in 1868. Conlon started as a proofreader for the World Telegram in New York City. Quite by accident, he was asked if he would take some pictures of ball players for an upcoming issue and the rest is history.

    He is best known for his picture of Ty Cobb sliding into third base at Hilltop Park in the 1909 game. SLR cameras were still yet to come during Conlon’s days at the park. He used to shoot a large format camera, positioned in the outfield in the foul section behind third base. Some of his famous shots include baseball greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson and John McGraw.

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    Toni Frissell

    What makes Toni Frissell so interesting is the fact she started as a fashion photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines. Toni was born Antionette Frissell in 1907 in New York City. She married Manhattan socialite McNeil Bacon, but kept her own name, which was unusual for the time. In 1931, she started her first photography job at Harper’s Bazaar. She was noted for her outdoor style of photography. She photographed many of her fashion shoots outside. During World War II, she volunteered her photography services at the American Red Cross and then later worked for the Eight Army Air Force till she became the official photographer of the Women’s Army Corps. She traveled to the European front twice photographing military women and African American fighter pilots in the elite 332 Fighter Group.

    After the war, she went back to magazine work shooting the rich and powerful including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1953, she became the first woman to work for Sports Illustrated. She shot various covers for Sports Illustrated. For a long time running, she was one of the few female sports photographers. She is considered a pioneer in sports photography. She died of Alzheimer’s at the age of 81 in 1988. Her work can be found at the Library of Congress.