Arts & Culture

Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present


I spent much of the last four years looking at photographs of beautiful bodies in motion alongside Gail Buckland, one of the world’s most respected historians of photography. The photographs were not of dancers; rather, they were of male and female athletes from around the world, professionals and non-pros, playing all manner of different sports. Gail was researching the history of sports photography for her book and traveling exhibition, Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, which is on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

Gail has had an illustrious and fascinating career. She is the former curator of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, has guest curated at many museums in the United States and around the world and is the author or collaborator on 14 books of history and photographic history. After working in her field as a photo historian for many years, she stopped writing and curating to research her book, Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography.  She told me she needed to look at the world before the camera, a machine, could capture/draw and preserve an image so that she could fully understand how photography changed the world. Then, once she understood the beginning of her field, she could build on it.


Herb Ritts (American, 1952 – –2002). Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume, 1987. Gelatin silver photograph, 15 x 11 in. (38.1 x 27.9 cm). © Herb Ritts Foundation/Trunk Archive.


I’ve worked with Gail on three other projects. I’ve watched her delight at learning new things through her work, discovering photographs that are new to her and interviewing photographers about how they think. She once said to me: “I work because when I create something, it stimulates and surprises me. I never know how it will turn out. I have 40 years of experience and it feels good to share what I know.”

While many sports photographers have had individual shows of their work, Gail wanted to honor the generations of men and women around the globe who have given sports its dynamic and lasting image and made singular contributions to the art of photography. She believes that beautiful photos of great artistic merit are worthy of being shown in art museums along with great paintings. Artists and athletes have been collaborating for centuries. In ancient Greece, the greatest artists celebrated the finest athletes. Since the invention of photography in 1840, this responsibility has been passed to sports photographers who are masters at capturing the moment. Most of them have been left out of photographic, cultural and art histories. Their pictures are often known, but they are not. Who Shot Sports changed this.

hill-and-adamsonDavid Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802– – 1870) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821– – 1848). Mr. Laing or Laine, 1843. Sepia-toned, salted paper photograph from calotype negative, 7¾ x 5 5/8 in. (19.6 x 14.3 cm). Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

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