These are the eyes of Contributing Photographer Brian Lanker: large, blue, curious, spellbinding. The rest of the man is all of those things, too, except blue, but we show only his eyes here because it was Lanker's extraordinary vision that produced the photographic essay Pieces of '82, which begins on page 52 of this issue.
Each of his pictures presents a crucial or intimate aspect of one of the year's most significant sports events or notable athletes, often in a setting that, in Lanker's words, "tries to evoke the image of the performance and then allows you to go beyond, to the pleasure of recognizing the human scale that makes the story fascinating."
Lanker is 35 years old. He spent his childhood in Michigan (where his father, Bud Lanker, wrote for the Detroit Free Press) and his adolescence in Arizona (where he worked for three years in his late teens as a "prolific, but not very good" photographer for the Phoenix Gazette) and got his professional education in Kansas (studying with SI Contributing Photographer Rich Clarkson at the Topeka Capital-Journal). He has lived for the last eight years in Eugene, Ore., where until recently he was director of photography at the Register-Guard. Lanker and his wife, Lynda, who is a portrait artist, reside there with children Julie, 13, Jacki, 10, and Dustin, 6, in the most gorgeous many-leveled hillside house in that city of open beams.
Their home is arresting because of its antiques, because of the array of spectacular Lanker photographs that draw the visitor's attention away from such trifles as not tripping over the furniture, and because of a great north wall of glass that faces on the massive trunk of a madrona tree. Grasping blackberry vines haul themselves over the deck railings, and within there's a fragrance of turpentine about the place. Opening a stained-glass door, one discovers a high-ceilinged studio and Lynda working at her latest painting. Perhaps that's the main thing; this house is beautiful and satisfying because it's inhabited by artists, for whom the look of something is grist for expression and the subject of passion.
Lanker's work has received the highest honors. He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, and was the 1970 and 1976 National Newspaper Photographer of the Year. Such sustained excellence is a result of technical expertise and an infectious, almost boyish curiosity about the life that unfolds before those eyes.
"Writers and photographers tend to see their roles as being separate," Lanker says. "But, in fact, words and photographs are both messengers. Of the photographs in this essay I most like the ones that are full of information, the ones you can really look at for a long time. Read what it says on some of Alberto Salazar's old ribbons there beside the laurel wreath. It was fascinating to go hunting for things that would produce a start of recognition, that sense of 'Ah, this is the way it was.' "