Some of the shots they take are so on-top-of-the-action, so perfectly timed, that sports photographers almost deserve to be considered athletes themselves. Here are three collections of work by men who moved into the right position, with the right lens, at just the right moment.
1. The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs, by Neal McCabe and Constance McCabe (Abrams, $35). The lustrous black-and-white photos that Charles M. Conlon took for the Sporting News from 1904 to 1942 range from portraits (the craggy face of baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis does justice to his unorthodox name) to action shots (Ty Cobb sliding into second base under a spray of dirt). But the captions by Neal and Constance McCabe are revelations in themselves. We learn, for example, that few players have made the difference that Rogers Hornsby did for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926. Late in the season, after his team lost four of five to the New York Giants with player-manger Hornsby recovering from thigh surgery, he rejoined the lineup in Brooklyn, where “six games were played with the Robins [as the Dodgers were called then], and the Cardinals swept though every one of them.” The Cards’ momentum helped propel them to victory in that year’s World Series.
2. Triumph on Ice: The New World of Figure Skating, by Jean Riley Senft, photographs by Gerard Chataigneau (Greystone, $29.95). Black and white would hardly do for a book that showcases figure skating — not with the coverboy, American Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, wearing a costume with a multi-colored snake embroidered on it. As any fan of the Winter Olympics knows, the garb itself is a spectator sport. But amid the clown makeup and the peasant dress, the flowing locks and the spiky hairdos, photographer Gerard Chataigneau has captured leaps and twists that would make Ty Cobb envious.
3. A Game to Love: In Celebration of Tennis, by Mike Powell, edited by Lewis Blackwell (Abrams, $40). Tennis used to present a sedate contrast to the glitz and drama of figure skating. But as photographer Mike Powell shows, tennis whites are now considered fuddy-duddy. There’s Serena Williams in a blue top with lime-green headband and polka-dot overlays on her nails. Or Rafael Nadal playing in black togs with gray piping. Speaking of Nadal, the caption under an action shot of his rival Roger Federer serves up a telling admission: “Look, no matter what people say, I never thought my problem was clay. My problem was Rafa. The guy is unbelievable.”