Walter Iooss Jr. has been a photographer for Sports Illustrated for the past 47 years, with over 300 covers to his credit.
Born on September 15, 1943 in Temple, Texas, Iooss shot his first roll of film in 1959, while covering a game at Yankee Stadium between the Chicago Cardinals and the NY Giants football teams. In 1960, while still a high school student, he received his first formal photography training during a summer recess course at The Germain School of Photography in New York.
A Career Begins
It was only one year later, at the age of 18, that he received his first assignment for Sports Illustrated. By the age of 19 his name was added to the Sports Illustrated masthead as a contributing photographer. Along with his assignments for Sports Illustrated he took another position as in-house photographer for Atlantic records, photographing some of the premier entertainers of the day. In 1974 he married his wife Eva Faase, a former Dutch model, two years later his first son Christian was born and in 1980 his second son Bjorn joined the family.
Iooss has been a long standing Sports Illustrated photographer, but there was a time when he thought about leaving this position. In 1997 a new upstart publication, ESPN the magazine, was started by Iooss’ friend and former Sports Illustrated managing editor John Papanack and John Walsh, the driving force behind Sportscenter. They summoned Iooss to their offices in Manhattan and offered him an extremely lucrative position with their new magazine. He seriously contemplated joining his friends, and had decided to leave Sports Illustrated. His wife convinced him to speak to Sports Illustrated in person to discuss his decision to leave. When he did so, Steve Fine, director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, called in the big guns to help change his mind. Norm Pearlstine, Editor-in-chief of Time, Inc took Iooss in his office and did not allow him to leave until they had changed his mind. A large pay increase helped seal the deal, and Iooss, who had been feeling under appreciated, even though he had shot more photographic pages than any other photographer in the history of the magazine, decided he would remain with Sports Illustrated.
Referred to by his friends as “Coast to Coast Iooss,” due to his constant travel, it is not unusual for Iooss to be on opposite sides of the world within the same week. His wife endearingly calls him “a human Fed-Ex package,” due to his hectic travel schedule. Iooss is the artist behind a large volume of Sports Illustrated iconic Swimsuit shots. His photo of Cheryl Tiegs wearing a white mesh swimsuit, taken in Brazil in 1980, will forever keep Iooss in the minds of purveyors of beauty.
Walter Iooss Jr. has photographed some of the world’s greatest athletes beginning in the early 1960s with shots of Roger Maris’ 61st homerun in Yankee Stadium. He has photographed such greats as Tiger Woods, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Cal Ripkin Jr, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neil, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice, just to name a few.
In 1982 Iooss was approached by Fuji Film to undertake a two-and-a-half-year project following Olympic athletes during their training and through the1984 Olympics. The images from this period of his life are extraordinary, and will live on forever as some of the best Olympic images ever produced.
Since most of Iooss’ subjects have been wealthy high paid athletes, it was a refreshing change of pace for Iooss to have the opportunity to photograph the raw sportsman, who was not touched by fame or glory. He traveled to Thailand where he photographed kickboxers and amateur baseball players. These images presented in black and white are some of Iooss’ best work.
Iooss also holds the distinction of having attended and photographed 40 straight Super Bowls. In 2006 he gathered together all former Super Bowl MVPs from his 40 years and produced a 20 x 24 Polaroid™ image of these extraordinary athletes.
Style and Technique
Walter Iooss Jr. is often admired for the style and technique he uses to enhance every photograph, whether it was of a prize athlete or a breathtaking beauty. Iooss uses the “wall” to create his image. In essence, it is the backdrop upon which he paints his image. Exotic locations are often the norm in his swimsuit shots, but even his athletes are often posed in front of a canvas especially designed and perfected by the artist himself.
In his early career he was a groundbreaking sports photographer, one of the first who ran along the sidelines of sporting events with a handheld 35mm camera. Most of the others who covered sports would be static on the sidelines with their large cameras and lenses poised on tripods. Iooss instead enjoyed following the action and almost becoming part of the game.
In 2004, Walter Iooss Jr. was presented with the prestigious LUCIE award for lifetime achievement in sports photography. He continues to shoot the photos that have been his signature for almost five decades.
His portfolio is full of 2010 swimsuit shots for Sports Illustrated, as well as up and coming athletes. He still travels, but admits to being more discriminate in frequency and locale. His wife of 28 years admits that if you took out all of the time that her husband was on the road over the years, they have probably been together only half that time.
In March of 2010 legendary sports photographer, Neil Leifer, joined his colleague and friend, Walter Iooss Jr, in an exhibit at the beautiful Annenberg Space for Photography in California. This exhibit was a combination of great images, multimedia shows and interviews with both legends.
It is almost impossible to review great sports images over the past five decades without coming across images from the Walter Iooss Jr collection. “Coast to Coast Iooss” has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the photographic world and has withstood the test of time.
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