A smart camera, however, doesn't mean the person carrying it is smart, and a picture isn't necessarily better just because it was harder to make. Celebrated Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, whose assistants had to coat glass-plate negatives with collodion just to start his laborious process, was not superior as an artist to Alfred Stieglitz, who 50 years later never toiled under such duress.
You can now do more with less than ever before, but digital technology hasn't improved anyone's ability to think, or plan. "The lenses are better, the focus is better," says Newman. "But the earth hasn't changed that much. Or the sun." Like shrewd pool players, the best sports photographers are agile strategists. They anticipate action. They know the angles of the game and the speed of players; and when light transforms the mundane into the luminous, they can knock the shot straight into the pocket.
In many cases, as Kluetmeier says, "it's often not so much about photographing who wins the game as it is the emotional reaction of the people playing or watching."
Photographers, like everyone else in the media over the last 50 years, have ceded power to television. Even the overwhelming advantage of feline agility that they used to enjoy when the networks viewed games through hulking, 200-pound cameras on rigid pivots has gradually disappeared with the advent of handheld digital video. But television is a medium under the sway of time slots and advertising breaks, and their cameras are switched off as soon as the game ends. As athletes and fans decompress and return to the real world, photographers are often still shooting away in the twilight.
Sporting events regularly produce epiphanies far beyond the creative reach of television and available only to readers of magazines and newspapers. There are at least two outstanding photographs of Bill Mazeroski's bottom-of-the-ninth, seventh-game 1960 home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The networks showed neither of them. Marvin Newman captured the exquisite arc at liftoff; the clock on the scoreboard has even marked the very minute that the Yankees lost the World Series.
George Silk, on the other hand, wasn't at the game. He chose to stand about a mile away and record the local crowd's reaction to this finale. Standing on the roof of a University of Pittsburgh building that overlooked Forbes Field, he made a picture of far-off cause and close-up effect. The distant bowl of the stadium and the etched diamond in the dirt tells us that the subject is baseball. But more generally the photograph is about being a fan and sharing with strangers a gust of handkerchief-waving mass exultation.
Those two pictures reinforce each other and bookend the day's triumph and tragedy with a dramatic concision and emotional satisfaction impossible to experience when watching the game again on ESPN Classic. Photographs edit out the yawning lulls and banal commentary, stuff you couldn't do without while the game was actually happening but that seems tedious and imprisoning when you're sitting through a replay of your memories. None of us want to be stuck in Groundhog Day, reliving our lives in real time.
As the definitive summation of our collective memory of the last 50 years in sports, the pictures on these pages of men, women and children, and the games they played, are incomplete and even, in some cases, opaque without words that explain them. Photographs certainly don't tell the whole story. But they are the most trusted and realistic illusions we have.