The test of digital. American sports journalism. Part III. 1980s-90s – beginning of the 21st century

By the end of the 1980s the technique of narrow format photography had reached its peak: AE camera, correct flash, fast film rewind, high light sensitivity of materials – everything was already there. Only manual override was the last outpost of classic hand-held photography that could not be conquered. But in 1989 Canon released the Canon EOS-1, a professional camera compatible with the Canon EF mount. electro-focus , and electro-focus instantly became the standard working technique for professionals.

We are grateful to RIA Novosti group for the photos they provided.

Photo equipment

1. Grigory Sysoyev/RIA Novosti

Yelena Isinbayeva, who won bronze at the London Olympics, during the pole vault finals.

It would seem that the photographer is no longer responsible for the exposure, it is possible to take pictures in difficult light conditions and not to worry about focusing. Finally, he could think only about the composition of the frame and its artistic value. But it was a long way off: what had seemed to be the summit was only a mountain pass. Photojournalism, and sports journalism as well, was still no sports journalism at all. Most often the photographer would bring the film to the newsroom himself: in the evening or the next day, or at the end of a business trip. And time was speeding up relentlessly – and photos had to catch up with it.

Photographer Alexander Nemenov captures photos with a Hasselblad Dixel 2000 1990s . Dixel was one of the first devices to digitize films and send information – for that you had to connect it to a regular landline phone, because back then, in the early 90s, there were no laptops, no Internet, and cellular phones had just appeared.

Photo equipment

2. Archive photo

Alexandra Nemenova

Digital rumors

As Andrei Zhelnov, the then sports editor of APN, recalls, he first heard about digital photography in 1990. It was like this: one of the heads of the APN Main Editorial Board of Photo Information, who came back from a trip to New York, told me about the cameras “that send a photo straight to the editor’s desk. This is more than we could have imagined. I remember thinking, ‘When are we going to have something like that?.

Digital imaging has actually been on the minds of people all over the world for quite a long time. And here is the first working use of this technology was tested by AFP at the Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988. But in the USSR there was no strict necessity for prompt delivery of photos: newspapers were free to print photos from the day before and in case of really important events, they put “snapshots” from their archives.

The exception was the “Novosti” press agency. Its mission was to disseminate information about the USSR in foreign countries, so it always had to work with the most advanced technology in the world. Already in early 1991, the Dixel was in photo editing – the events of August of that year were sent in this way. Almost simultaneously with APN, the New York bureaus of foreign agencies AFP, Reuters, AP began to make use of real-time photos.

Photo equipment

3. Grigory Sysoyev/RIA Novosti

London Olympics gold medalist Aliya Mustafina performs a vault during the women’s gymnastics qualifying rounds at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

A wagon and a small cart of photographic equipment

There is no saddest tale in the world than that of a toilet manifestation… A. Nemenov

1991 is an important year for our country. But it was also momentous for sports photography. It was in August 1991, almost simultaneously with the events in New York, that the second daily sports newspaper in our country was born.

It seems strange now, but in the Soviet Union there was only one daily sports publication – Soviet Sport. The newspaper’s huge circulation and lack of competition made it a hostage to its exclusivity. But it was in the depths of Soviet Sport that the new sports paper Sport-Express was founded.

Here’s what Kommersant wrote about it #027 of 08.08.2012 .07.1991, by YURI Kommersant-VASILYEV :

Journalists discovered a new kind of “Sport

A group of leading journalists of the Sovetsky Sport newspaper submitted their resignations on July 1. As they were leaving, they announced that they had managed to register an alternative newspaper, Sport-Express, a few days before the “split.

One of the possible reasons for the conflict this version was supported by the founders of Sport-Express themselves is the difference in the approaches to creativity between the newspaper’s editor-in-chief and some of the staff. Kudryavtsev, who graduated from the Academy of Social Sciences under the CPSU Central Committee and worked as an instructor at the CPSU Central Committee, adheres to the style of the party press. Hence the numerous political stories and three “healthy lifestyle” strips a week.

Valery Kudryavtsev told Kommersant that he doesn’t believe that non-Soviet Sport can compete with Sovietsky. Vladimir Kuchmiy holds the opposite opinion.

The ideology of the new sports paper is eventful and up-to-date. Applied to photography, this meant that the evening picture had to be in the morning issue. This practice was not cheap for the newspaper: the majority of sports matches start when the newspapers are already subscribed to print. And being late with the delivery of the issue costs big fines: printing complexes of that time are not only printing, but also distribution. Late – and your number in the morning is banal – did not reach the reader.

This rule, however, hit the photographers the hardest: even if you knew in advance that a number would be delayed “put in jail” , the photographer did not have much time. And ideally you should send in a photo without “planting” a number.

Photo equipment

4. Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti

Denis Lebedev of America during the fight for the World Boxing Association WBA heavyweight title against Guillermo Jones of Panama.

That period-before laptops, professional digital cameras and the Internet-was one of the toughest. The sports photographers of the time were top-notch professionals who knew a great deal not only about photography, sports, journalism, but also electronics and communication.

Alexander Wilf remembers: “For example, I was on my way to a match in Tula Arsenal FC in Tula was one of the first to “buy” Brazilian players . I have with me, first of all, a huge number of boxes: not only photographic equipment, but also a mini laboratory for developing film and equipment for scanning. I only have 15 minutes for the game itself, after that I have to go to the hotel. I developed the film there, dried it with a hotel hair dryer, scanned – and transmitted – through the hotel phone, analog connection, opening a box with wires behind the bedside table.”.

Under the new conditions there’s almost no time left for the photographer not only to shoot, but also to see the important moments of the game they rarely happen in the first 15 minutes . So, on the one hand, the number of brilliant shots went down. On the other hand, the photographer found himself excluded from photo selection and editing. And the bild-editor in the editorial office had only one interest: to deliver the first picture as quickly as possible.

Photo equipment

5. Alexei Kudenko/RIA Novosti

U.S. national team player Paul Stastny left celebrates scoring the puck in the World Hockey Championship quarterfinal match between the national teams of America and the United States.

As a consequence, most sports photos from the 90s are very sloppy and often ugly from a compositional point of view. Since then, speed and eventfulness in sports journalism photography have been just as important as the art part. And when it was impossible to provide both at once, speed had priority.

At the same time, the rush for eventfulness has greatly changed the attitude towards sports photography in general, and more specifically to the subjects in it. And if before it was OK to take an “archive” photo, now it’s better to take at least a recent one. This has also affected the way photographers began to shoot: whereas previously they tried to make the most generalized images, now it is more important to take pictures that are clearly tied to a specific event.

A rescue that turned into a near-catastrophe

The first sporting event where digital cameras were used was the FIFA World Cup in France in 1998. It was a Kodak DCS 520 two-megapixel camera, developed jointly with Canon. In reality, digital technology began to be used only in the 2000s – at the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 . But even back then photographers often used two cameras: digital for quick reports and film for the “archive”, because in terms of color rendering and picture quality digital was still badly inferior to film.

Zhelnov recalls: “I remember well the first time I saw a digital image: I was amazed at how much it looked like drawn. Everything is clear and sharp, but there is no depth, no beauty like on film.

Alexander Villef: “I once travelled with Sasha Fedorts to a Rotor vs Bordeaux match 1995 . We sent 2 cards from there. Sasha was sending the first one for 40 minutes, while I was standing at the reception with a bundle of money, proving to the receptionist that we should not be disconnected and we could pay for the frantically expensive call: “You have a long-distance call to Frankfurt for half an hour, it’s very expensive, let me disconnect you just in case, apparently, something is hanging up!”. And they took the third card themselves by “calling” us – it could be done that way too we passed it on to the EPA . Then pass 3 cards – the trip justified! The speeds were small. The newspaper didn’t need more frames.”

Photo equipment

7. Alexander Wilf/RIA Novosti

China’s Xucheng Huang, who won the silver medal in the synchronized swimming technical solo at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona.

Photo equipment

6. Ilya Pitalev/RIA Novosti

Felisha Johnson USA in the women’s shot put finals at the XXVII World Summer Universiade 2013 in Kazan.

Gradually, the Internet and mobile communications are developing – and now photographers can send images directly from the field, using cell phones to access the network. At the same time, the first high-quality, affordable digital SLR camera, the Canon EOS 5D with 12.7 megapixels, was released.

It would seem that the moment has come when the photographer can think about creativity! But once again changed circumstances intervened: shooting techniques and photo transfer techniques become much easier and more accessible. A large number of enthusiastic amateurs sports or photography – it does not matter anymore come into the profession. For them, one shot is not as expensive as for “old school” photographers – and there is a devaluation of photos. Whereas previously the author knew exactly which frame of the 36 shots he would send to which publication, now beginners are ready to dump the whole flash drive without selection onto the bild-editor’s computer – “you choose what you need”.

In a situation when there are a lot of photographers there are a lot of similar, almost identical photos in sports everyone shoots the same event from the same spot . That is why new technical innovations are so widespread now when shooting competitions: suspended cameras, underwater cameras, robotics, radio control – they let you shoot from non-standard places. But the suspension or radio control is nothing more than a technical trick. Like the fisheye lens, which Lev Borodulin used for the first time in sports photography. Yes, it offers new ways for photographers to frame and reveal images. But the most important thing is the story, the moment of shooting.

Photo equipment

8. Alexei Filippov/RIA Novosti

Players of Canada and Serbia during the men’s basketball third-place match at the 27th Summer Universiade in Kazan.

Photo equipment

9. Ilya Pitalev/RIA Novosti

Athletes in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase preliminary race at the World Championships in Athletics in New York.

Then came another innovation of the late 20th century: the development of Internet news sites. Suddenly it turned out that users are very interesting to look in large numbers just pictures from sports events, and not to read long analytical texts.

Alexander Wilf: “As we have nothing to do at biathlon, I suggested to our IT man Ilyukha: let’s make a photo gallery? Him: How quickly can you send it to me?? In an hour or so you can? Me: given your size! – I can do it between races. And Ilyukha started making galleries. Three or four days later, he called me up and said: we had a statistics meeting, so for the entire New Year’s period, 60 percent of the newspaper’s traffic was your galleries! Another 20 – this is text material for your galleries. And all the rest is news, transitions, soccer club messages… And then everyone went nuts.”

Not only the heads of “Sport-Express” were surprised, but all the other participants of the process were as well: amateurs – from the fact that it is so easy to make a picture, not a bit worse than that of a pro professionals – from the fact that they are pressed by the young, who not always even know shutter speed from aperture Bild-Editors – from the huge volume of images and the speed with which they have to update photo-gallery. It seems that at this point, the average sports shooting has fallen. But that’s not really the case. What an advanced amateur could do with inexpensive semi-professional equipment was unthinkable for the most virtuoso professionals just a couple of years ago!

But now there are much more requirements to sports photography: it should definitely be technically high-quality and interesting, “tasty” card. As before, it has to be beautiful from a compositional, coloristic, graphic point of view. There is also a new attitude towards the subject of the photo: it should illustrate the most important moment of the whole event.

Quote by Wilf O. With. Kucherenko: Editor-in-Chief of Football-Hockey Weekly :

“The coolest moment in soccer is when a goal is scored”. I want to see everything: the goal, the ball, the goal itself. If, say, a return goal is scored, then I don’t need this card anymore, you can keep it. I need a card when the return goal was scored, when the score was tied. Because now he’s the decider. And if they score a third goal, I don’t need those two cards, I need the third.”

Today everything must be shot beautifully and technically well. And the further it goes, the more refined and sophisticated it becomes in terms of sports composition. Now almost nothing stands in the way of photographers’ creativity well, except for the crowd of similar photographers standing nearby .

Alexander Wilf: “Everything comes back to Bresson, to the “decisive moment,” only on a real level, in real life, not the one he had in mind. In sports, as it turns out, almost NOTHING has been photographed at all. Still to come. Now it’s easier to shoot some specific moments. You CAN shoot them if you know what to shoot. And before, you could shoot them WITHIN – and it doesn’t compare in quality and significance to what you can do today.”

Photo Technique

10. Photo: Grigory Sysoev

Photographers during the shooting of the Olympic marathon race in London.

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John Techno

Greetings, everyone! I am John Techno, and my expedition in the realm of household appliances has been a thrilling adventure spanning over 30 years. What began as a curiosity about the mechanics of these everyday marvels transformed into a fulfilling career journey.

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