With Walter Iooss, sports become art

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By Fred Bowen
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Newseum is the place to be if you like sports and are looking for something different to do over the holidays. The interactive museum is hosting a wonderful exhibit called "Athlete: The Sports Illustrated Photography of Walter Iooss."

Iooss (pronounced "yose" as in "dose") is perhaps the world's most famous sports photographer. His pictures have appeared on more than 300 covers of Sports Illustrated.

The Newseum exhibit is not that big. There are just 40 or so images, but they are all special. Some are from the 1960s, when Iooss was starting his photography career. The pictures capture the details of an era that is long gone: football players wearing single-bar face masks, basketball stars in short shorts and baseball parks with the late-afternoon shadows that crept across the field at the end of day games.

Many of Iooss's photos show the incredible physical presence of our athletic stars: Swimmer Michael Phelps stretching his limbs looks like some fantastic, prehistoric bird. Basketball legend Michael Jordan soaring through the air makes you wonder if he really could fly. Olympic skater Michelle Kwan against the New York City skyline is the essence of poise and grace.

Iooss did not photograph only stars. Several pictures show kids playing soccer and stickball on the streets of Cuba and Brazil. The images capture the pure, simple joy of sports, far away from the roaring stadium crowds.

It's hard to pick a few favorite pictures from so many memorable images. But take a close look at the photograph that shows middleweight boxing champion Bernard Hopkins moving toward the ring, surrounded by his handlers. Hopkins's hard, expressionless face tells you why his boxing nickname was "The Executioner."

Then there is the series of three photos showing Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax unleashing a pitch. With each frame you can see, and almost feel, the incredible strain and effort each pitch must have been for the legendary left-hander.

If you go, be sure to read the material displayed beside each picture. These writings tell the often fascinating stories behind the pictures. And there is a short film in which Iooss talks about his pictures and his career.

Speaking of films, there is a cool movie in a Newseum theater next to the Iooss exhibit called "Press Box: The History of Sports Reporting," a 25-minute documentary that includes some of the great moments in sports.

So if you like sports and you like learning about sports history, check out the Newseum in the next few weeks. The Iooss photographs will be on display there through December 31.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is the author of such kids' books as "Touchdown Trouble" and "Soccer Team Upset."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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