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It sometimes seems that sports is a performance especially designed for photography. Certainly the spectator rarely sees sports as vividly as the camera, and never in the same richness of detail. The skillful photographer is able to freeze the split second of furious action into patterns that escape the eye completely while the action is taking place.
The fan has long been aware of this. Over and over again he has marveled at pictures that show the superhuman contortions of the player in midair at the start of a double play at second base; the odd bend of the pitcher's arm at delivery; the golfer's blast out of a sand trap; the plunging halfback half in, half out of the line.
But to many observers—and photographers—these familiar patterns, reprinted over the years, became clich�s. And it was the photographer who could do something about it. He left his snug little nest beneath the grandstand roof where his long-range Big Bertha camera had been trained perpetually on the obvious. He began to roam, letting his artist's eye guide him. He left the ball park and stadium entirely as the mood struck him and began to move throughout the world of sport.
Now he went beyond the scenes he had ridden into clich�s. He looked for more than action. He looked for meaning in his compositions and sometimes he looked just for beauty, which in itself is meaningful in the sportsman's world. Instead of merely shooting the golfer blasting out of the sand trap, he widened his scope and took pictures like the one on the opposite page, which shows the great Ben Hogan's follow-through after driving from the eighth tee in the Masters Tournament. But it shows more than that. It shows the nature of the hole, the kind of day it was and the stature of the man himself through the size and tenseness of the watching crowd.
And so it is with the 30 other examples of color photography from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S first year which are reproduced (mostly in miniature) on the next eight pages. Each in its own way captures a meaning—a meaning and a mood—of excitement, violence, serenity, majesty, eloquently characteristic of the sport itself.
These are the new-found patterns of the photographer's art. And how, but in pictures like these, could one know and truly feel the stylish arrogance of the bullfighter, the aloneness of a man in the surf, or the ultimate grace of a figure skater?
Since all of the examples of the new sports photographer's work shown here are in color, it is of historical importance to point out that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is actually a pioneer in color sports photography. From its first issue it has printed a sizable budget of color pages as well as the weekly SPECTACLE, which is a journalistic innovation.
Journalistic innovations are rarely accidents, so it would be of value at least journalistically, if not historically, to include in this essay on patterns in sport the thinking about SPECTACLE that was put down on paper before its advent.
Sport, in all its endless variety, is always something to be seen. It is magic to the eye. It lingers in the lifelong treasury of vision. And so, of course, in this great age of photography, the magazine of sports must be SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. And not only must it have many, many moments of vision throughout its pages; there must be one place in the magazine where sport is saluted by a burst of the very greatest color photography. This spot in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED we call SPECTACLE.