During the past 12 years SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has employed more than 1,000 photographers of varying temperaments and talents. Some of them have been specialists who focus on part of the sports spectrum. The specialists have often rewarded us handsomely, but the far greater share of our pictorial wealth derives from men who find something of value everywhere—in the crucial moments of superathletes and in the leisure of ordinary people.
Of all the photographers who have passed this way, none has exceeded the versatility of Dick Meek, a man of quiet genius. Meek has sampled more of sport for us than anyone else. His first photographic assignment, a yearling sale at Saratoga, appeared in our second issue, August 23, 1954. His 553rd assignment, the splendor of Arabian horses transplanted to Arizona, appears this week, beginning on page 28. In the years between Saratoga and the Arabians, Meek has presented us with rich images of all manner of champions, challengers, pretenders and duds, some in action and some at rest. He has photographed with equal success the arenas, the wildernesses and the equipment that sportsmen use and love. He has a sensitivity for the obvious drama of a championship match and an equal sensitivity for the elegance of the ballroom or the tranquillity of a Caribbean cruise.
Meek decided that photography was the best of all possible worlds 25 years ago while still a high-schooler in Richmond, Ind. His first professional effort involved photographing part of a high school football game, dashing off to print his pictures and returning to sell them in the grandstand. It was a technical success but a commercial disaster, grossing 20�.
From the start Meek was a tinkerer, and for 10 years he worked as a photographer's assistant, a darkroom man and a studio manager, absorbing the technical details, but always remaining too much of a vers libre poet to become enslaved by technology. In the course of his work for us he has used electronic equipment by the ton to throw light into the far corners of an arena and to freeze the high-speed action of great performers such as Arnold Palmer.
But, for all his know-how, his prime virtue seems to be an innate capacity for making the most of a natural scene. In the Australian challenge for the America's Cup four years ago, as the 12-meter Gretel swept by the defender Weatherly off Newport, Meek caught the moment in a picture that hundreds of sea lovers have torn out of our magazine and hung up. In that one picture he made the most of everything. He used the drama of the moment, the sunlight shining through bulging sails, the spinnaker colors reflecting off inky water. But it is in the nature of Meek to use the offerings of nature to their fullest. In all of his pictures, in summer or winter, in fair weather or foul, the elements have a potency: the warmth of the sun, the mistiness of the sea, the cold of snow on a mountain have a strength that can be felt.
"After 25 years," Meek said recently, "I have never been able to decide whether photography is an art or a craft. And for me it doesn't really matter. I am satisfied that it is something unto itself that requires creativity."