In Tokyo now, waiting out quarantine, and the heat. This will be a different type of coverage, for sure. I’ve only done four Olympic Games, so my experience level is nowhere near what other photogs gathered here have. But even shooters who have 10, 12, 14 Games under their belt are taking this one, uncertain, step at a time.
Last year, I spent time in Tokyo with a mind to create what magazines used to call a “walk up” to the event. Pre-Games coverage, establishing the mood and flavor of the hosting city. In my time in Tokyo, 2020, pre-pandemic, I also managed to photograph some amazing legacy athletes in the world of Japanese sports. No one athlete was more prominent and important than the legendary gymnast, Yukio Iketani.
He scored two bronze medals in the Seoul Olympics, and again scored a silver and bronze in the Barcelona Games. He is widely recognized throughout Japan, and is revered.
So, it made sense to bring him, and a trampoline, to one of the most powerful cultural symbols of Japan–Mt. Fuji.
But, a phone call had to be made first.
Neil Leifer, a dear friend and legendary Sports Illustrated and TIME photog, photographed a picture act for TIME back 1984, where he took prominent athletes from many countries and posed them in front of the potent symbols of their respective countries. I recall him saying it was not only the best assignment he’d ever had, it was the best assignment he’d ever heard of. In the course of shooting that job, he made a picture of Japanese gymnast Koji Gushiken on the rings in front of Mount Fuji. Neil being Neil, he brought a crane, and dangled rings from the crane, positioning the athlete in precise fashion.
It’s a gesture of respect to a colleague. I called and asked Neil permission to do my version, circa 2020. There are legacy athletes, and legacy photographers, and Neil is certainly one of those. Neil enthusiastically blessed my effort and offered advice. He’s largely retired now, but his pictures still ring true, powerfully so. I would not have done this picture without making that phone call first.
And bringing a trampoline, sand bags, cushions, mats, and lights to Mt. Fuji. And scouting the area twice and finding a lovely couple who allowed us to use what is essentially, their backyard. And keeping the athlete warm on a sunny but cold day near the mountain. And trying to make every frame count. Mr. Iketani could not do what he was so sublimely doing up in the air, forever. He was astounding and gracious to work with.
Testing had to be done, with the intrepid Andrew Tomasino, a very fine young photographer and videographer who often works with our studio. Here he flies, though not quite as gracefully as Yukio. The judges I’m sure would give him huge points for enthusiasm, though.
This pic has become the lead pic for a ZReportage package launched over at Zuma Press
For the technically minded, the approach was as simple as the photo itself. Yukio flew off the trampoline, and I popped one flash, raw light, at him from the same angle the sun was arcing, late in the day. That enabled me to establish a level of saturation in the sky, by upping my exposure level at the subject. Long lens, 70-200, D850. Done.
These Games are about to start. Regardless of the difficulties, there will be the best of the human spirit out on the pitch, and the track, and in the pool. The athletes, via their own magnificence, lift us all up.