Watching all the pageantry surrounding the NCAA basketball tournaments during the past couple weeks reminded me of this photo I took nearly 30 years ago during a photography internship at the Kansas City Times (back when the Star was Kansas City’s afternoon daily and the Times was published from the same building as the morning paper). We were always looking for “wild art” back then, and through most of my newspaper photography career. The “Great Picture Hunt” was often frustrating, and sometimes a photographer would spend almost the entire day looking for something visually interesting and come back with something so weak they hated to see their name under it in the paper, but none of us ever came back empty handed. It was always tempting to just pose something for the camera. This was always taboo at any paper I worked for, but we all knew some photographers did it, just like we know now that some photojournalists cross ethical boundaries in how much they manipulate images with Photoshop. But, aside from the dishonesty of presenting something as a found, slice-of-life situation when it was actually choreographed for the camera by the photographer, that photographer will also never know what really would have happened had they not changed the situation. Sometimes the photos you just let happen looked more like a setup than anything we could have posed.
Working for my hometown paper, and the first large newspaper I had worked for, I was sent out to find a stand-alone photo and was determined to bring back something special. Eventually most photographers develop some reporting skills to bring back unusual feature photos – a notebook of ideas in the car, perusing some newsletters or calendars for local schools and senior centers, even a read through the phone book to find some unusual and visual businesses. When most of us started out, howeer, we just drove around looking for cool photographs. I took my picture hunt to a local housing project in K.C., saw these kids coming out of an apartment with the hoop, hammer and basketball, and could imagine what was going to happen. I introduced myself, and then followed them to the telephone pole where James McIntosh, left, held the hoop as Rodja Pearson pounded in the nails. Raimor Darrington looks like he’s just waiting to take the first shot, but was really bouncing the ball off the back of Pearson’s head. The final photo looked too good to be true, but sometimes we just got lucky.
As for real basketball photography, Rich Clarkson, the dean of NCAA photographers and a Kansas native who ran the photography departments at the Topeka Capital Journal and National Geographic, just finished shooting his 57th, that’s right 57th, NCAA Tournament Final Four. CBS This Morning profiled Clarkson, who is now based in Denver, Monday morning.