Do you remember the image titled “Wings,” which was an image for a Nike Ad of Michael Jordan, with his arms straight out holding a basketball? Of course you do. It was one of the most iconic images ever taken of Michael Jordan.
I would guess that many of you, around my age had this image hanging on their wall in the nineties or knew someone who did. I would even suppose you are envisioning it right now or are wondering what ever happened to yours (if you were one of the lucky ones who owned one).
Now, can you remember the photographers name? Probably not. His name was Gary Nolton. And like many of my heroes, he was tasked with creating an interesting and unique image of one of your heroes. And what he did was create one of the most iconic images of all-time.
That’s the life of a photographer. We stand in the shadows, living our lives through our lenses, looking to create interesting images of others. While our images are often seen, we are not. And for most of us, that’s the way we like it. I have always wondered what it would be like to photograph a celebrity. On one hand, you would think it would be easy to get traction on an image of a celebrity. I mean, they are famous, right? People know them. They watch them play sports, are in movies and we listen to their music. How hard could it be to take a great image of a celebrity? Ummm……..extremely difficult.
Taking a strong image isn’t enough. You also have to make it interesting. How do you take a face that is everywhere and make it interesting? How do you make it stand out? How do you make it timeless? Getting your lighting and exposure right isn’t enough. You must think outside the box to capture the essence of an individual. To show them in a light that stands out from the thousands of images that have been taken before.
When I think about Michael Jordan, this is the image that comes to mind. This is the timeless piece I always come back to. This is the art of portrait photography. “Wings” by Gary Nolton. It is my Mecca of portrait photography.
Behind every iconic image of one of your heroes is one of my heroes.
A great portrait almost has a journalistic quality to it. It tells you a story through visual storytelling. When I look at the "Bo Knows" ad from 1987, it basically tells the story of Bo Jackson. A multi sport super athlete who could do it all. Or Claudia Shiffer's Guess Ads from the 90's. As beautiful as she was, there was such a gritty yet dreamy quality to these images. They weren't like any of the other ads out there at the time. This was the amazing work of Ellen Von Unwerth. And if you have had the pleasure of looking at any of Danny Clinch's work, it is filled with unbelievably soulful images of many of your favorite musicians. Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. As much as I love these artists, I love Danny's work even more. The mix between candid moments and posed shooting gives us a behind the scenes look at the humanistic side our favorite artists. In the end they are just like you.......only extraordinary at their craft. Just as Danny is.
The image "Wings" was paired with a quote by William Blake that said, “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” There are kids out there right now counting down from 3....2....1 dreaming of hitting that last second shot to win the championship. Somewhere else out there is a kid picking up a camera, dreaming of being the one who takes an image of that athlete that lasts well beyond the moment of that shot. We all want to fly, but that doesn't mean we have to choose the same sky.