Andy Hayt, who was among the SI photographers covering last week's Seahawks-Raiders NFL playoff game (his photo is at the top of page 21) and who contributed to the USFL piece (page 78), is one of eight notable European and American photographers—and at 26 by far the youngest in that group—whose works are appraised in Bryn Campbell's book Great Action Photography, published in 1983.
Hayt, a quiet, unassuming young man—"I like to blend into the woodwork," he says—is greatly admired by professional photographers. American Photographer magazine, in a lavish feature piece devoted to Hayt, described him as "a shooting star."
Hayt's rise to prominence began when he was an aspiring artist in high school in La Jolla, Calif. Though he had little interest in sports—"They had to hold a gun on me to get me to go to gym," he recalls—he nonetheless found motion intriguing. "One day I borrowed a camera from my father to shoot photos of motorcycle races so I'd have something to work from for my drawings," Hayt says. "I became fascinated by the way the camera caught movement. I did some darkroom work, and pretty soon I forgot about art and became totally involved with photography." He took pictures for the school paper and the yearbook and in his senior year landed a part-time job with a local newspaper, The Vista Press, shooting mostly sports.
Covering pro sports was an extraordinary opportunity for a high school student. "I don't think there are very many places other than San Diego where that could have happened," Hayt says. "Even though I was young and working for a small daily, the photographers on the San Diego morning paper, the Union, were very helpful. There was none of that 'Get out of my way, kid' stuff. They made it easy for me."
After high school Hayt enrolled at Arizona State and at the end of his second year took a semester off to work as a part-time photographer for the Los Angeles Times. He returned to college for one more term and then went to work full time for the paper. John G. Zimmerman, a Los Angeles resident and longtime SI photographer, was impressed by Hayt's work and introduced him to John Dominis, then our picture editor. When Hayt left the Times to free-lance, Dominis assigned him stories for SI, and in July 1981 he came on staff.
Hayt's lack of enthusiasm for sports has long since disappeared. "When you're around it your interest gets piqued and you learn," he says. "I didn't know much about football until college, but now I can almost call plays. As a photographer you develop a sense of what's about to happen.
"When I'm not covering for SI, I try to hit a game anyway. I'll play around, try different things—different lenses, different shutter speeds. You have failures, but you learn a lot making a big mistake. You think, 'This situation may occur again, and I'll be ready for it.' In shooting sports you have no second chance. You're always going for broke."