Creating Portraits of Olympians

Olympian Portraits

I just wrote this post for Photofocus, a popular photography blog that I write for often (can see past posts I’ve written here).  I’ve had such fun following the Olympics this year, I thought I’d post this to my own blog, too. The Olympics: A spectacle of possibility, of what it takes to compete at the optimal worldwide level – the opportunity to pull in mind, body, spirit and technique for that one crucial moment you’re trained for your whole life. Heady, inspiring stuff. I’ve had the honor of creating portraits of a few Olympian athletes and coaches, and it still amazes me – watching how spectacularly they come to life when they are so in their element. When I photographed Olympic gold-medal winner Cullen Jones, I put on a bathing suit for the shoot and met him on his home turf: the pool. I was surprised to find that he was open to anything, as long as it made for a good photograph. He could conjure up a mean squint as easily as he could produce a megawatt smile, complete with dimples. I was also surprised at exactly what zero body fat looked like upclose … and I ate salad for the rest of the week. When I photographed Olympian Shalane Flanagan, I was treated to a tour of her and her husband’s home, fully modified for her life of training. I also got a peek at how she maximizes her training – interestingly enough, she sleeps in a sealed, hypoxic room, designed to be similar to being at 10,000 feet altitude. This is where she increased her lung capacity nightly. And she showed me her gravity-free treadmill. When she has to take it easy, or go through rehab, she is able to still run without taking the physical hit to her body. And her garage? I’ve honestly never seen so many sneakers in my life. Eritrean-born Meb Keflezighi won the New York Marathon, the 2012 U.S. Olympics Trials (in a time of 2:09:08) and is racing track & field for the U.S in London, focused on the marathon. Our recent cover shoot took place early morning at Kenan Stadium, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he would start a race of 4,000 runners – many of which were also big fans. He talked to me of possibility, family, and the choices we make. He smiled often. His brother told me he does that quite a lot, in fact. You almost wouldn’t guess that his level of endurance was quite so intense. We all know it’s a privilege to do work we love. But sometimes it goes beyond that. Our work, as photographers, can introduce us to stand-out individuals in our society. It gives us the opportunity to watch the Olympic games with our children and excitedly point at faces that are all-too familiar to us now (not just the photography and the conversations but the editing and the tweaking for publications and the ongoing viewing on our galleries). We get to say “Hey, I swam with him, I walked through her home, I stood at the start line with him and high-fived passing runners … and because of so much of that, I feel so much closer to this right now. And all just because one day I decided to pick up a camera and figure out how to use it well. (Thanks, photography).

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