Brooklyn Museum presents "Who Shot Sports"

I finally made a trip to the Brooklyn Museum for Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, what I feel is a seminal exhibit that was long in the making.

Brooklyn Museum presents "Who Shot Sports"


I finally made a trip to the Brooklyn Museum for Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, what I feel is a seminal exhibit that was long in the making. Sports photography, as many of my friends know, is my passion. Whether on the professional level, school level or pickup level, sports photography is a challenge and an art that has never received the exhibition-level it deserves. So kudos to the Brooklyn Museum right off the bat.

As we enter the Christmas break and the Polar Vortex, what better way to spend a day than to visit the museum in this last two weeks of the exhibit. There are multiple reasons to do it. And don't forget that the exhibit can be seen during the first FIRST SATURDAY of 2017 on January 7.

Neil Leifer's image of Muhammed Ali standing over the prostrate Sonny Liston

What was the most striking image in the whole show? There were several, but I have to say my favorite was the oversized version of Neil Leifer's image of Muhammed Ali standing over the prostrate Sonny Liston during the 1965 World Heavyweight Title fight at St. Dominic’s Arena. Seeing it large shows the total domination of the moment for both Ali and Leifer. Ali is shouting in triumph, the muscles of his arm showing the power of his body. Leifer's peers, the sports photographers across the ring, have the distinct look that they know what Leifer has captured and that fate has put them on the wrong side of the ring. It is a feeling that EVERY sports photographer has had many times in their careers, including, I'm sure, Neil Leifer.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibit (of course) is promoting guest curator Gail Buckland's compilation book of the same title (Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present - Available on Amazon). It is the second book in her "Who Shot" series, following Who Shot Rock & Roll published in 2009. Buckland, former curator of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, is a prolific book producer with 14 titles under her belt (keeping with the sports metaphors). This is her second exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum with the traveling exhibition of Who Shot Rock and Roll opening in their gallery in 2009.

But let's get back to the pictures in the exhibit. The one weakness I would have to single out in the exhibit was basketball. None of the images jumped off the wall for me. I expected to see images I had not seen before, and I did. And none of them really made me go wow. It was disappointing. Where was the amazing image of Michael Jordan sailing through the air in his superhuman way? I was hoping to see an image of this that had never made it onto the pages of Sports Illustrated, maybe from his college days in North Carolina. Unfortunately, nothing like that graced the walls of the museum.


Don't get me wrong, they were fine basketball images in the show. I just expected better. Buckland said in an interview with Patrick Sauer (Signature):

“If I had a modicum of knowledge about sports, I would’ve stayed away from the project,” says Buckland. “My ignorance allowed me to go in blind. There’s merit in not recognizing the subject because I could really look at the pictures.”

This actually is a little different than I expected. I still feel that there were more iconic images that should have been included in the exhibit. But I was glad for the opportunity to see some images that a non-sports editor saw as important and beautiful examples of this photographic discipline. One image that particularly captivated me was one I have to admit, I'd never seen before.

David Burnet's example of tilt-shift photography taken during the Korea vs Netherlands Field Hockey match during the 2008 Beijing Olympics creates a miniature world of sports. The technique created such a shallow depth of field and selective focus that the image doesn't seem like an actual moment in time of actual athletes. The result is stunning.

David Burnet is one of those photographers who really captures the world in a unique perspective. His career has taken him to many of the greatest moments in history. As the co-founder of Contact Press Images,the New York based photojournalism agency, he is entering his 5th decade as a photojournalist. His first "color story" was the launch of Apollo XI. His portfolio from the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 contains phenomenal sports images that were not included in the exhibit. They are well worth a special trip to his website for viewing.

Another image that brought "controversy" to the exhibit for myself and my friends along to view the exhibit was Heinz Kluetmeier's photograph of New England Patriot's Aaron Hernandez losing his helmet during a play against the New York Jets. Kluetmeier described Hernandez as "a tattoed, well-muscled superhero." It is a stunning sports photograph. Two year's after the image was taken, Hernandez was convicted of murder. It led to a discussion of the brutality of sports and the type of person who plays this gladiatoral type of sport. But there were so many other images that led us to talk about the responsibility of athletes to be "role models." Comparing Kluetmeier's photograph to Bob Martin's image from 2004 shows Serena Williams in a moment of intense athleticism. Her battle is against a bouncing ball but shows the same intensity as a moment of contact in football.

©Heinz Kluetmeier and ©Bob Martin

©Bob Martin; 2004 Paralympic Games

Bob Martin has the most images of any photographer in the exhibition, a total of six. His career has spanned the last fourteen Summer and Winter Olympic Games and is a three time winner of the prestigious British Sports Photographer of the Year. During the London 2012 Olympics, he was appointed as the overall Photo Chief. As much as I like the Serena Williams image, his photograph from the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens captured the meaning of the competition as Avi Torres, a Spanish swimmer, dives into the water at the start of the 200-meter freestyle, leaving his artificial legs on the pool deck. It is one of the strongest images in the exhibition.

©Barton Silverman, New York Times; "He Rarely Missed A Shot"

I was also very happy to see my friend, Barton Silverman from the New York Times, represented in the show. When I was a new sports photographer on the New York scene in the early 90's, Barton Silverman was already a New York legend. He was also a really nice person who shared his stories over many a meal in the press rooms of the greatest sports venues in the world. His career with the New York Times spanned more than 25 years and the Times has a beautiful retrospective of his work on their website. His image of Derek Jeter stealing third base at Yankee Stadium is a wonderful addition to the exhibition and the book.

Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, companion book available on for $26.16

With over 230 images by 170 photographers, Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present is a comprehensive look at sports photography. Let's hope that it is the first of many celebrating this genre of photography.


The Brooklyn Museum presents Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present from July 15, 2016, to January 8, 2017, in the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, 4th Floor.

Who Shot Sports, one of the first museum exhibitions to put sports photographers in the forefront, is the most comprehensive presentation of sports photography ever organized. It gathers together approximately 230 works—from daguerreotypes and salted paper prints to digital images—that capture the universal appeal of sports, highlighting unforgettable moments of drama and athletic excitement from around the globe.

Georges Demeny; Chronophotograph of an exercize on the horizontal bar, 1906; ©INSEP Iconotheque

In 1881, Georges Demeny became an assistant to Étienne-Jules Marey, distinguished professor at the Collège de France, often using chronophotography (several frames of movement on one negative) to study movement. In 1902, Demeny was hired to head a scientific photographic laboratory at l’École de Jonville, a sports college in Paris for training athletes and soldiers. This was the first photographic sports research center in the world. Demeny used photography to study stress, fatigue, muscular movements, and efficiency in physical activity.

The 170 photographers represented in Who Shot Sports include Richard Avedon, Al Bello, David Burnett, Rich Clarkson, Georges Demeny, Dr. Harold Edgerton, Rineke Dijkstra, Brian Finke, Toni Frissell, Ken Geiger, LeRoy Grannis, David Guttenfelder, Ernst Haas, Charles "Teenie" Harris, Walter Iooss, Jr., Heinz Kleutmeier, Stanley Kubrick, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Neil Leifer, Étienne-Jules Marey, Bob Martin, Martin Munkacsi, Edward Muybridge, Catherine Opie, Leni Riefenstahl, Robert Riger, Alexander Rodchenko, Howard Schatz, Flip Schulke, George Silk, Barton Silverman, and Andy Warhol.

©Robert Riger; The Golden Arm, Johnny Unitas, 1958

Trained at Pratt Institute, Robert Riger loved sports photography because it “showed the beauty and power of man.” Many of his action shots complicate the supposed boundaries between “high” and “low” art. When his photographs show bodies suspended in movement, as in this shot of the Baltimore Colts playing the New York Giants, they assume the quality of a great historic painting.

"Today, it is the photographers who give sports its indelible image," says Gail Buckland, who returns as guest curator after the 2009 exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. "Seeing athletic greatness, we both recognize our personal physical limitations and delight in bodies and minds taken to new heights. To play and to watch sports is to be in the moment. Still photographers are masters of moments."

Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, companion book available on for $26.16

Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present is organized by guest curator Gail Buckland. The Brooklyn presentation is coordinated by Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions, Brooklyn Museum.

Who Shot Sports, a ticketed exhibition, will cost $16 for adults; $10 for students with valid I.D. and adults 62 and over; and $10 for Corporate Members. The exhibition is free for Individual Members and above, and for youth aged 19 and under. On Target First Saturdays and Thursday Nights hosted by Squarespace, admission to Who Shot Sports will cost $10. Tickets, which also include general Museum admission, will be available at and at the Admissions Desk in the Museum’s lobby.

A companion book of the same title, published by Alfred A. Knopf, accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition is organized by guest curator Gail Buckland. The Brooklyn presentation is coordinated by Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions, Brooklyn Museum.

©Lev Borodulin; Girl Archer, 1956; Courtesy Nailya Alexander Gallery, NYC

Lev Borodulin was a press photographer in the former Soviet Union who applied formalist photographic principles—emphasizing aesthetics over storytelling—to sports photography. Girl Archer shows how well he absorbed the ideas of early twentieth-century Russian Constructivist and Bauhaus theory, which valued geometric forms and new perspectives.



The Brooklyn Museum is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. Its roots extend back to 1823 and the founding of the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library to educate young tradesmen (Walt Whitman would later become one of its librarians). First established in Brooklyn Heights, the Library moved into rooms in the Brooklyn Lyceum building on Washington Street in 1841. Two years later, the Lyceum and the Library combined to form the Brooklyn Institute, offering important early exhibitions of painting and sculpture in addition to lectures on subjects as diverse as geology and abolitionism. The Institute announced plans to establish a permanent gallery of fine arts in 1846.

By 1890, Institute leaders had determined to build a grand new structure devoted jointly to the fine arts and the natural sciences; the reorganized Institute was then renamed the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, the forebear of the Brooklyn Museum. The original design of the new museum building, from 1893, by the architects McKim, Mead & White was meant to house myriad educational and research activities in addition to the growing collections. The ambitious building plan, had it been fully realized, would have produced the largest single museum structure in the world. Indeed, so broad was the institution’s overall mandate that the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum would remain divisions of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences until they became independent entities in the 1970s.