The Perfect Shot: Walter Iooss Jr. and the Art of Sports Photography

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Over his long career, photographer Walter Iooss Jr. had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest athletes of the past sixty years, capturing on film carefully crafted moments of triumph and disappointment—universal emotions that athletes and non-athletes alike know so well.

The Perfect Shot: Walter Iooss Jr. and the Art of Sports Photography takes visitors through some of the most inspiring moments in sports history and highlights the craft and talent that transformed these moments into art. The exhibit features athletes as diverse as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and many more.

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 twenty years old. He went on to become a prolific photographer for the magazine and photographed every Super Bowl from the first in 1967 through 2020, and shot over three hundred covers. Assignments took him to Havana, Bangkok and former East Germany.

“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, PhD. “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.” As such, the exhibition includes some original copies of the magazine featuring cover photos by Iooss alongside their companion original photographs, allowing visitors to see the manner in which an image might be altered for a magazine cover.

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.

“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.”

This family-friendly exhibit 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 is an adaptation of the original retrospective exhibit organized by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA) and is drawn from their permanent collection.

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Tour Schedule

The Perfect Shot: Walter Iooss Jr. and the Art of Sports Photography is touring June 2024 through May 2029. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

60 original framed photography prints and 4 magazines

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Bryn Schockmel, PhD

  • Organized By

    Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA)

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $6,150

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $3,690

  • Duration

    7-Week Display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    TBD

  • Square Feet

  • Security

    Standard (Formerly Moderate B)

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    4 Estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.