With the Olympics just around the corner I thought I’d check in with Simon Barnett of Newsweek, because he’s hired his very own dream team of photographers (Laforet, Miralle and Powell) to provide coverage of the event.
The Olympics start next week. Are you ready? Can you explain a little bit about how someone prepares to cover an event of this magnitude?
I think we’re ready!…. There’s a tremendous amount of pre-planning involved in this, I’d say more than any other event, period. The fact that so many events are happening at different locations, often at the same times, makes the correct scheduling a pivotal part of how well we’ll do. We’ve been working on it for about a month and are just about done. We’ve gone over and over the schedule trying to predict the big stories while not forgetting the interesting smaller events, and also factoring in that the photographers are, occasionally, entitled to a little sleep.
How did you come up with the dream team of Laforet, Miralle and Powell?
All are ex-Allsport staffers (now gone, an early Getty acquisition), as I was I too. I was Allsport USA’s managing editor in the 90’s and worked closely with Mike Powell, so we go way back. Vince and Donald joined Allsport after I left to be a part of the team that started ESPN the Magazine. Even though I don’t get to do that much sports nowadays with Newsweek, I’ve always kept an interested eye on the sports photography scene, and I know that I have assigned the three best, most original sports photographers available.
Allsport really was an amazing place for photography—at it’s peak it was to sport what Magnum is to photojournalism. There was an incredible hunger at the agency, and often a quite intimidating rivalry amongst the shooters. I remember clearly the harsh ribbing that some of the youngsters would get if they couldn’t follow focus 6 frames of an athlete running at them on a 600mm. They’d all be challenging themselves to shoot difficult pictures, on massive tele-photos, using 50 ASA Velvia in the shade, skillfully timing the peak action at the only possible moment when it froze sufficiently to yield a sharp image at a 1/60th of a second. That era produced the likes of Simon Bruty and Bob Martin, both now at SI, and guys like David Cannon and Clive Brunskill who are still with Getty today. Allsport photographers were always shooting portfolio-type images, trying first to make art, and, in a classic sports sense, driven to beat the hell out of the competition.
For this Olympics, I thought I’d to try and approach it that way again, this time for Newsweek. I have given Mike, Vincent and Donald a dream brief at the biggest event in the world—go make great photographs first, worry less about recording every medal.
With the media revolution that’s underfoot and the ability consumers and professionals have to publish text, photography and video, instantly to a world wide audience, this will certainly be the most published sporting event ever. I know the media is granted special access but you’re still sitting there shooting from same perspective as hundreds of other photographers with the exact same global reach. How do you produce original work in an environment like this?
The Olympics are tough to make look different, and they’ve never been tougher to cover than they are today. Hundred’s of photographers are penned in the same place, all on the same lens, all using the same camera (which begins with C). If you go back pre-autofocus, pre-digital, the best photographers had an easier time of distancing themselves from the pack. But now, with these amazing cameras, much of the technical skill we used to prize in professionals, such as exposure on chrome in changing light, the ability to manually focus, and critical lens choice, has been automated. I’ve told my guys to go author these Games the way they see it, and with that I am hopeful they might be freed to see something unique.
How will you resist the call to publish the images everyone else is publishing and instead present an original point of view?
I should clarify that the plan I lay out here is one that assumes that the Olympics passes as a purely sporting event, and one that does not escalate into an unforeseeable news story, such as was the case in Munich 72, or with a Tanya Harding Olympics. If a big news story overtakes the sports story, we’ll adapt to deliver that. That’s something that I can say we’re pretty used to doing. Statistically speaking, the chances of one of my three photographers being in a better position, and having a better photograph of a news event than the wire services is fairly unlikely. And if that happens, I will surely be looking for the best news picture, wherever it comes from. The Olympics has a habit of producing these bigger-than-sports stories about half of the time, so we are bracing for that eventuality.
So, now that shooting sporting events is no longer technically difficult, is it the job of Photo Editors to ensure the health of the industry, by bringing the next generation of Laforet’s, Miralle’s and Powell’s into the fold?
It is a duty of the photo editing community to mine for the next generation. As I say, technically publishable pictures can now be taken by almost anyone with a 200 dollar point and shoot, so hunting for the people who have a point of view, and can express their unique vision in photographs is more important than ever. It’s now less about how to technically get the image recorded and so much more about the mind behind it.
Tell me a little bit about working on an event of this magnitude from a DoP’s point of view. Lot’s of meetings, last minute adjustments of coverage and a ton of frames to edit?
For us, this is the first time that our focus is overwhelmingly to our web presence, so with that we’ve come up with a new approach to editing. Each of the three photographers will manage their own photo blog, editing and uploading their best images –along with, I hope, some very personal anecdotes about what it’s like to be there experiencing it. I hope this creates a form of photo “Survivor” between them, where they are in a kind of creative competition. Then, I’ll go in to their blogs each day and edit what I deem to be the ‘best of’ which will be up on a showcased Newsweek.com gallery around noon each day. It’s kind of photographic natural selection.
Are you doing anything unique with all the photography you’ve commissioned? Where should people go to see the coverage?
Newsweek.com and our photo blog Visions of China. And we welcome feedback…