Catch the Birdie!
By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page C01
Rule No. 1 of golf photography: Stick close to the gallery ropes. No straying onto the fairway. Got it?
It seems someone forgot to pass that little nugget on to Walter Iooss Jr., back when he was a 20-year-old photographer on his first pro golf gig. The year was 1964. Assigned to shoot Tony Lema for Sports Illustrated (Iooss has been working for the magazine ever since), the eager young photographer insisted on getting the perfect picture. His quest took him smack dab in the middle of the green just as Lema was taking a shot.
Those familiar with the rabid sensitivity of professional golfers can guess what happened next: A high-volume chewing out by the pro and, for the next 17 holes, a barrage of dirty looks from his fans.
Though Iooss learned his lesson, his knack for rule-breaking would never change. When you stop by Govinda Gallery to view "Classic Golf," his retrospective of 38 black-and-white and color pictures, you'll see that more than a few fudges were required to get these shots.
Note just how many frames capture golfers at the top of the swing -- you know, the ones with arms and clubs held high, as if posing for a deodorant commercial. Turns out they're a violation of golf photography rule No. 2: From the moment the player steps up to the ball to the second he's past impact, no snapping allowed. So how did Iooss do it? He shot through a long lens. He stationed himself downwind, hoping air currents would mask the shutter click. And plenty of times he just hid in the trees. Did I mention this guy has been kicked off a few tournament grounds?
Iooss's brushes with tournament security got him -- and the publications he's worked for -- a collection of pictures capturing what golf really is: A very serious business played in funny-looking pants. Check out Johnny Miller's snazzy houndstooth trousers from 1974 if you don't believe me. Yowsa.
In "Classic Golf," you'll find the agony and the ecstasy set against gorgeous country club backdrops. For me, those never-never lands, with their trim greens and statuesque oaks, are reason enough to be entranced -- such perfection is hard to find elsewhere in the world. And the turns of this royal, gentlemanly sport, which Iooss sometimes captures, have a certain appeal. Just look at Tiger Woods about to tee off in Carlsbad, Calif. An expanse of luscious lawn spreads out before him; spectators line either side. That's Sir Woods to you, peasant.
Iooss isn't all about pomp. There is plenty of grit and grimacing along the way. Like the best sports photographers, Iooss can sniff angst from a hundred yards and commit it to film in a flash.
Though Iooss's pictures lend this sometimes tedious game a jaunty pace, this is a show for enthusiasts and the folks who love them. If the names Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer sound like pulp fiction private eyes, sit this one out.
Troyer Gallery Closes
So long, Sally Troyer. Just in time or long overdue, depending on whom you ask. On July 10, Troyer closes her gallery for good. By late last year, she had scaled down her practice by giving her gallery's front rooms over to new gallerist Martin Irvine. Now she's ceded the last few hundred square feet she occupied for the past 20 years to Irvine. I trust he will use the space wisely.
The handoff is a good thing. Troyer has taken chances over the years -- several young Corcoran graduates have shown here; there was that stab or two at showing video art a few years back -- but those chances were coming less and less frequently. Opened as the Jones Troyer photography gallery by Troyer and Katie Jones back in the early 1980s, the space added and then dropped proprietors Vivienne Lassman and Sandy Fitzpatrick, who encouraged the inclusion of painting and younger local artists. Since Troyer went solo in 1999, she has shepherded a string of polite if unexciting artists through her doors.
Her best shows have been photography, which she studied at the Corcoran many years ago. Her pottery and ceramics exhibitions were another strength. Since this city lacks important pottery venues, the gallery's closing will leave an important field underrepresented. She will continue to deal in both genres privately, however.
"Ultimate Exhibition," Troyer's final group show, presents a selection of artists who've shown here over the years. About them there is very little bad, or particularly good, to say. You've seen the likes of the late Claire Flanders's melancholy black-and-white photos, with their ivy-covered statuary, before. Dick Arentz turns out more impressive pictures; the one here is a misty view of a gargantuan tree. Ceramicist Randy Johnston has crafted some attractive vessels.
Like much of the work shown at Troyer in recent years, the show is unremarkable. And the same can be said for most all of Troyer's Dupont Circle neighbors. There is a market for the kind of work Troyer, and her colleagues, have sold. Yet Dupont Circle needs more exhibitions that stimulate and advance contemporary art practice. I'm hopeful that Irvine will lead the way.
Classic Golf: The Photographs of Walter Iooss Jr. at Govinda Gallery, 1227 34th St. NW, Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 202-333-1180, to July 10.
Ultimate Exhibition at Troyer Gallery, 1710 Connecticut Ave. NW, Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., 202-328-7189, to July 10.
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