OKLAHOMA CITY – A new, original exhibition of over 80 photographs by iconic sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr. will open on March 5 at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. “The Perfect Shot: Walter Iooss Jr. and the Art of Sports Photography” spans 50 years of Iooss’ career and features athletes as diverse as Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bart Conner, Serena Williams and many more.
“OKCMOA has an incredibly strong collection of photography, and our works by Walter Iooss Jr. are no exception,” said OKCMOA President and CEO Michael Anderson, Ph.D. “Iooss blurs the line between fine art and sports photography, and we are honored to organize and present this important retrospective of his work. 'The Perfect Shot’ will take visitors through many of the most inspiring and memorable moments in sports history while highlighting the craft and talent that transformed these moments into art.”
Iooss was born in 1943 and shot his first roll of film in 1959, at a New York Giants game with his father. Only two years later, he began working for “Sports Illustrated,” landing his first cover in 1963, when he was not yet 20 years old. He went on to become a prolific photographer who photographed every Super Bowl from the first in 1967 through 2020 and shot over 300 “Sports Illustrated” covers.
The majority of the photos in “The Perfect Shot” stem from Iooss’ work with “Sports Illustrated,” including assignments that took him to Havana, Bangkok and former East Germany. The exhibition includes a number of original copies of “Sports Illustrated” magazines, featuring cover photos by Iooss, ranging from the 1960s to the present. Many of the original photographs are in the exhibition, allowing visitors to see the manner in which an image might be altered for a magazine cover.
“Over the course of his career with ‘Sports Illustrated,’ Iooss brilliantly photographed many of the greatest athletes of all time,” said OKCMOA curator Bryn Schockmel, Ph.D. “As an artist, Iooss has created carefully composed portraits, captured seemingly candid moments that were actually meticulously crafted and taken dramatic shots at the center of the action.”
Other photographs included in the exhibition are professional portraits or works that were part of advertising campaigns. In 1982, Iooss was hired by Fuji Photo Film for a two-year project documenting American athletes as they prepared for, and ultimately competed in, the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles; a number of photos from that project are included in the exhibition.
Of the many relationships Iooss developed with the athletes he photographed, one of the closest was with legendary basketball star Michael Jordan. Iooss shot Jordan dozens of times over many years, and the pair collaborated on a book of photographs, “Rare Air,” in 1993. Seven photographs of Jordan are featured in the exhibition.
“Iooss is a master at framing and discovering dynamic backdrops, resulting in visually intriguing compositions,” continued Schockmel. “In preparation for taking his iconic photo of Michael Jordan, ‘The Blue Dunk,’ and not knowing the uniform color that Jordan would wear, Iooss had a parking lot painted half blue and half red. Jordan arrived in red and they shot against blue. A movable basketball net allowed Iooss to capture the perfect angle so that Jordan almost seems to be playing against his own shadow. It is carefully composed shots like these over the course of decades that have elevated Iooss to his legendary status as one of the best sports photographers in history.”
"The Perfect Shot” is organized into five sections that revolve around universal emotions: anticipation, perseverance, triumph, disappointment and reflection. The sections allow for unique pairings and juxtapositions, finding commonalities in photographs taken decades apart of very different sports and athletes. It also enables viewers, regardless of if they have a background playing or watching sports, to relate to the emotions seen in the photographs.
“The Perfect Shot” will be on view through Sept. 4, 2022. A special preview will be held on March 4, and curator-led tours will be offered on March 11, April 30 and throughout the summer. More information about “The Perfect Shot” can be found on the Museum’s website, okcmoa.com.
This exhibition is generously supported by Karen R. Delaney, Col. (Ret.) Dean and Mrs. Jeanne Jackson and Philip and Heather Busey.