Have you ever wondered about the stories behind some of the world’s most iconic images? Our new series “Legendary Photos,” features photographers from Canon’s Explorer’s of Light program, past and present, giving us behind-the-scenes insight on how they captured these unforgettable moments.
For this installment of Legendary Photos, sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr. shares the stories behind seven of his incredible images of athletes.
Dwight Clark (The Catch), 1981
The story behind this photo (above) is a good one. I was assigned by Sports Illustrated to spend the season with the Dallas Cowboys. I started out in Thousand Oaks, California in July at their training camp. I went to every game until this last game. This was the playoff game. The winner went to the Super Bowl. So, the worst thing that could have happened to me was Clark made this catch and eliminated the Cowboys. I mean, I remember going to the locker room after the game. This was the worst locker room I’ve ever been in my life. It was like every player was sitting there like they lost their mother in a horrible accident. It was horrible.
I’m not sure exactly how the film got back to Sports Illustrated but the following Wednesday, this cover comes out and it’s called, “The Catch.” At that point I was damn happy those Cowboys lost. That’s the story of it.
The other thing is I followed Montana. It’s a whole scenario, this catch. Montana rolls right and I have him rolling right with one camera and then he throws the ball, according to Montana, “that only one person on earth could catch.” And Clark had never jumped this high before. It was Joe Montana doing what he does.
At that point, there was no magic. I used a 50mm lens and Canon body for this shot, and by the way, this is a shot I had practiced. I love pass receivers and I had a cover on Sports Illustrated, a couple years before this, with a receiver catching a ball with one hand. So, I practiced capturing someone with a 50mm lens when they are about 15 feet away from you. I was prepared. I mean, you really don’t know if you’ve got it until the film is processed sometime later. It wasn’t digital.
This photo resonates with people, I think, because it’s this historical moment in sports but I also think the fact that Sports Illustrated put it on the cover, along with that phrase (The Catch), is what sealed its fate in sports photos. It also didn’t hurt that San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl. It’s just one of those things.