I was 24 years old and tired of photographers when I met Walter for the first time. Or, to put the date of the meeting into context the way Walter does, I still had hair. It was another dunk session, this one in suburban Chicago. I had only one ground rule: Make it quick. The fact that it had to be great was a given. "I'll give you five," I told Walter. "That's all you get." He wasn't fazed. Now, I know confidence. And the fact that he felt that confident made me comfortable. "No problem, Michael." I found out very quickly that I wasn't the only professional in the room. We had the same focus on excellence, and Walter, with his surfer-boy tan, never flinched. He may have stood his ground and negotiated for what he needed to deliver the shot, but it never really mattered. From what I can tell, Walter has never taken a bad shot of anybody or anything. Years later, working together on "Rare Air," we had become so comfortable around one another that I barely had to look up. You don't have to perform for Walter. He is an artist looking for a shot, usually one that only he can see. And that's the thing about genius. It's often only obvious after the fact. In Walter's case the whole world has been able to see it in books and magazines. This book is no different.
Walter Iooss shot his first frame at a professional football game at Yankee Stadium in 1959 with his father's hobbyist camera. Developing that first roll, seeing the image appear in a makeshift home darkroom unlocked his future. Iooss was 16 years old. He has been putting photographs together in his mind ever since. As the years passed and sports (and life) became more complicated, Iooss refined his technique but not his style, which has remained fundamentally improvisational. (It will surprise no one familiar with his work to learn that his father, Walter C. Iooss Sr., was a jazz bassist who performed with Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillepsie, Billie Holiday, and other musicians.) The action and purity of sport have been Iooss's concentration. To paraphrase Henri Cartier-Bresson, to make a brilliant image is to capture, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event. This is what Iooss does at his best. He gets the picture. The meaning in the image is not always obvious, but something always lingers. Iooss is master of the picture you can't forget—but without cliché. You return to his images only to find something previously unnoticed, if not in the frame then certainly in your reaction to it. This is both complicated and wonderful: it is at this moment that the photograph becomes more real than reality. This is especially true of Iooss's portraits, in which his instinct is so finely tuned that he does not so much capture emotion as paint it on the faces of his subjects with light and timing. The images literally explode with character: the intensity of Ray Lewis, the grace of Pelé. This is Iooss's personal catalog. He insists that he is not an artist, and that is for him to say. What I will say is that the work is transcendent.
Editor, Sports Illustrated Group