Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Bill Frakes: Constant Motion
Widely known for his Sports Illustrated work, versatile photojournalist Bill Frakes has mastered the art of visual storytelling
Frakes saw the last seven minutes of an exhibition rugby game in Gainesville, Florida, and that was enough. The women played the game wearing old prom dresses to raise money for breast cancer research.
Photographing the speed, action and urgency of a sporting event is something that Frakes is just plain good at, and he enjoys the technical challenges of getting images that transpire very quickly and typically just once. Often, the most poignant part of still sports imagery is the way a photographer can freeze a moment, capturing the pure and raw intensity of an instant that viewers would never see otherwise.
“I can tell a lot by body language, the speed of motion, language,” he explains. “I’m so familiar with a lot of athletes that I can just tell.”
Given his motivation is to make pictures that are driven by personality and emotion, it makes sense that “the most exciting two minutes in sports” remains his top event to shoot, even after having covered more than 25 of them.
When I try to delineate what it is that I’m doing, what my job is, saying storyteller doesn’t explain it to most people, but that’s what it is, he says.“I wouldn’t say horse racing is my favorite thing to shoot, but the Kentucky Derby is, for sure, my favorite event,” says Frakes. “There’s no greater place than Churchill Downs on Derby Day. The entire spectrum of human emotion is on display. It’s a great cross section of Americana—the art, food, culture, images, sounds and smells. You have people from all walks of life, and they’re all having a great time.”
A portrait session featuring former Olympian divers. The image was used for the cover of Nikon’s F5 brochure.
Frakes is always trying to give readers a fresh perspective that they can’t find elsewhere, so he puts the cameras in places where there may be a chance for him to capture something extraordinary and starts firing them before the horses arrive and continues until after they’ve left.
Frakes landed at The Miami Herald, which at that time was one of the top newspapers for photojournalism in the country, fresh out of school. While pounding the streets to cover riots, murders, natural disasters and conflicts around the world, he learned the essence of shooting on a deadline as opposed to waiting for inspiration or more optimal conditions. From a news perspective, few American cities offered more excitement than Miami in the 1980s, and few daily newspapers were more aggressive and well-funded. The switch to magazine photography, and particularly SI, afforded him a bigger and different audience, more resources and the freedom to pursue other work.
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