Of natural causes at his home on Long Island, N.Y., Richard Meek, one of SI's original three photographers. Meek, 79, shot 45 covers for the magazine, as well as numerous photographic essays on such diverse subjects as auto racing, billiards, NFL football and a gathering of fantastically dressed Arabian horse owners in Arizona. "His versatility was fascinating," says longtime SI photographer Neil Leifer. "He was a superb studio photographer, but he was equally good on the sidelines at the Olympics or at the America's Cup. His pictures ran the gamut."
Meek was raised in Richmond, Ind., where, in his early teens, he converted the back of his father's bakery into a darkroom. As one of his first projects he took pictures at a high school football game, raced home to develop them, then raced back to sell the prints in the stands. He came to New York City in the late 1940s to work in the photo lab at LIFE magazine, and when SI debuted on Aug. 16, 1954, he was one of a trio of full-time photographers that included Mark Kauffman and Hy Peskin. Meek stayed on staff until '58, then worked as a contract photographer—while also shooting covers for LIFE—until 1970. In a 1966 letter to the readers, SI publisher Garry Valk discussed Meek's exceptional range and called him "a man of quiet genius. Meek has sampled more of sport for us than anyone else."
Meek had more than 550 assignments for the magazine, so many that he shot cover portraits of enduring athletes like Muhammad Ali more than once. In an era when the magazine often focused on animals—not just racehorses, but dogs, seals, bears and fish—he frequently got the call. In recent years Meek created abstract art in a darkroom at his home, where he lived with his wife, Barbara. "I have never been able to decide whether photography is an art or a craft," Meek once said. "For me it doesn't really matter. I am' satisfied that it is something unto itself."