While shooting diver Greg Louganis for the book, Iooss experienced the "transcendent moment" of his career. "It was like God jumped in your camera for one picture and said, 'O.K., this is it,' " he says. "I was moving the camera so quickly that it was taking the red of the sky and swirling it. It looked like the flames of hell coming out of the pool. I was very excited about this shot, so when Louganis finally looked at it, I was just waiting to get stroked. He takes one look at it, hands the picture back to me and goes, 'I'm bent.' I said, 'Excuse me?' He says, 'I'm bent. Look at me. I'm crooked.' And he walks out.
"At first I couldn't believe it, but then I realized that we each see something different in a photograph," Iooss says. "To me that was as good an action picture as I'll ever take. What really establishes a great photographer is when he creates an image that has his signature. This is what we all want, to make an image that we control. Backgrounds, setups, lighting, composition—whatever's there is there for a reason. Controlling a picture is what the art of photography is about, because most of our lives are out of control. If you can put a person in position where you want him, with the light just right, it's yours, it's no one else's."
Back again, in his fourth decade of shooting for SI, Iooss has begun to develop similarly proprietary feelings about the magazine. "I'm such a part of the look of that magazine," he says, not boastfully. Iooss's eye began to wander from the weekly thrill ride of news photography to the more stately pace of feature work during the '80s. "And then I found out I need this, I need to work for SI," he says. "You can't fight what you are. Where else can I take these pictures? I still love to see my pictures published. So why fight it?"
His recent pictures of hitting stars Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, taken two weeks before the start of the baseball strike, gave Iooss the opportunity to combine his flair for the dramatic with an important news story. He meticulously lit the two players and shot them back-to-back for the cover and then separately for individual feature stories, hoping to show, he says, "everything that's good about the game of baseball, and why they should keep playing." The players went out anyway, but Iooss's images remained indelible in memory, like ghosts, through the long silences of autumn.
On Sept. 4, Iooss covered his first regular-season football game in five years when the New England Patriots opened in Miami, at Joe Robbie Stadium, where the Florida Marlins also play. "There was a deluge right before the game 'that turned the baseball infield into a quagmire," Iooss says. "The sidelines were clear, like they used to be 20 years ago, so I was free to go wherever I wanted to go. It was like everything was flashing back. Every place I went was the right place. I had my son Christian there as an assistant, and I told him we needed to move to the other end of the field because something was about to happen. He's looking at me kind of funny, like, how did I know?"
On the very next play Miami receiver Irving Fryar caught a 35-yard pass from quarterback Dan Marino to win the game, and Iooss had the entire three-frame sequence—and the cover shot—in perfect focus and in the magazine the following week. "On TV that night you could see the catch, then you saw Christian throw his hands up and leap in the air, just like I had after Jimmy Orr's catch. He was even in a white shirt so you could see him better on TV. It was like my whole career had come full circle. I know now that wherever they send me is the right place for me to be."
The place he's in is the best place. There are no other places.