This is something of a departure from the main theme of my blog. I originally posted this onto my Facebook photography page earlier this year. But after chatting to someone about it this weekend I have decided to post it here as well.
I wrote on a similar subject last year. But I have been prompted to write this following some photography I did last weekend.
I think for everybody who takes part in a sport at a reasonable level and most people who go to watch sport at any level it is very much about the drama and passion involved. But what does that drama involve? Certainly winning but to get to the point of winning it involves blood, sweat and tears; quite literally. And, of course, for every winner there is a loser. If you take part in sport you are inevitably, from time to time going to get an injury of some sort. At many of the sports events I photograph, the public are not just invited to watch they need to pay in order to watch. So very much a public event at which they expect to see a dramatic event.
Sports photography is essentially photojournalism. So, do we want to see an honest, full version of the drama and passion of a sports event, or just a sanitised version where achievement looks easy and we only see the happy faces of the winners. I don’t think so. If you make winning look easy, if you make it appear that there are no blood sweat and tears then you take away most of the drama. Furthermore, you do a disservice to the athletes and the sheer grit and determination it takes to be a winner.
What prompted me to think about this and write this note is something that happened at a match I was photographing. An athlete got injured and was clearly distressed by both the pain of the injury and the disappointment. I took a few shots of her being helped off and then a few of her showing her distress and pain. This was happening very close to the (large) crowd and was clearly being watched by the crowd. The shots I took featured the athlete with her head in her hands and the pain and disappointment is more implied by body language than anything else. I took these shots from a distance of about 10 yards. I don’t feel this was particularly intrusive bearing in mind that I was further away than many people in the crowd. I was also using a wide-angle lens as I actually thought the concern of the people around her was more interesting. Certainly not as intrusive as TV cameras being literally shoved in a person’s face, which you frequently see. (For some reason, any antics of moving picture cameramen seem to be more acceptable and rarely challenegd.) Anyway I was asked to stop photographing and was verbally abused by one person. Interestingly, the TV camera man standing virtually next to me and filming exactly the same thing was not spoken to at all. I find this quite interesting really.
This is not a one off. For, instance, a couple of years ago I was photographing a women’s rugby international, featuring arguably the best two teams in the world. I took a couple of shots of a player with a blood injury leaving the field with the physio actually covering most of the blood with an ice pack. I was forcefully told to stop photographing (by somebody who had no authority to do so as it happens). The reason I was given was that it might deter other women from taking up rugby. This is basically selling a lie. If you play rugby you will almost inevitably end up having a blood injury or several. Why pretend that isn’t the case. (As an aside to this, if Tom Williams had not been photographed and filmed during the infamous “bloodgate” incident, on the grounds that we can’t photograph injuries or blood, then Quins would not have been found out.)
People who know me well are aware that I delete any photograph taken at sports events where I feel that somebody’s dignity or privacy has accidentally been compromised. I also frequently ask people whether they think it’s ok to use photographs that I have doubts about. But I don’t think this extends to people displaying normal emotions (good or bad) associated with the effort that goes into being an elite athlete.
Many of you will remember Derek Redmond.
Link to video
I can remember watching this at the time and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. What a massive hero and true Olympian. I know people who weren’t even alive at the time who are inspired by this. But if we weren’t allowed to record images of athletes because they are showing pain or distress, or because they are injured, we wouldn’t have witnessed this. It wouldn’t be around to inspire people now.
I’d like to add a personal note here. A few years ago I was photographed at what was regarded as a major incident. It wasn’t a sports event; people were killed and maimed. This event had a profound effect on my life and my future health. Suffice to say I wasn’t looking my best in this photograph which appeared in newspapers, magazines and on the cover of a Sunday supplement and a couple of other magazines. Despite the fact it wasn’t a great experience for me I think the taking and using of the picture was perfectly acceptable. I mention this only to illustrate that I don’t have double standards on this.
Just a few thoughts.