Day in the Life with Mark Weber (sports photographer) cont.’d

Q & A with Commercial Appeal sports photographer Mark Weber

Q: How many cameras do you generally carry with you?

A: Well in the car I have about four; when I’m shooting a football game it could be as many as three.  I will have a short glass, the medium length, and the long glass on a monopod. If I don’t feel like it’s going to be a lot of plays coming near me, I just stick with the medium length, the  seventy-two hundred in long glass.

Q: With being so close in the action, and I have always been curious because I’ve watched the photographers as the players go off track or they’re coming right at you, is it scary or have you ever been hit?

A: I’ve never actually been, well I was run into by a high school kid but I did more damage than he did. He ran into me and he wasn’t a big kid. But other than that I’ve never actually been hit on the sideline.

In basketball I’ve been run over, on the sid-line, in basketball it’s about on the baseline, but you basically figure out, you just make sure you don’t go where their knees are going, because you’re sitting on the baseline so their knees are generally at your head level; so if you can see their knees are coming this way, you go this way or you just make sure your head isn’t where their knees are. But I’ve been “turtled” before, which means, because we sit in canoe seats, so if you get knocked over you pretty much have your little arms and legs up like a turtle because you’re stuck in your seat. But that’s not that bad.

Q: If anyone, who has been the biggest impact on you, photography-wise? Is there anyone you looked up to or aspired to be like?

A: William Albert Allard, geographic photographer; Neil Leifer, he was a sports illustrated photographer, he had a Muhammad Ali picture that won the Pulitzer. I have a lot of photography books that I look at. Bruce Davidson, just about any geographic photographers. Of course everybody when they are coming up wants to be a geographic photographer.

There are plenty of people, you name them, I’ve looked at them; but sports-wise, to be completely honest,  I look at sports photographers and I kinda see what they’re doing different, like if they’re doing different angles; so if they are doing different placements of their cameras, or if they’re in a different spot, because it really is a genre of our industry that can tend to get very stagnant, I mean it’s just, you shoot from the same position a lot of times. And the access, I find it really dumb, these days, it’s gotten harder to get to the athletes, try to get them in moments where they aren’t contrived or in a press conference; because it’s really, really hard to get those kinds of personal moments.

Q: So you like the more personal, behind the scenes shots?

A: One of my favorite moments that I have taken was after the Final Four with Robert Dozier in the locker room, once they’d just lost the Final Four, and he’s just sitting there with this look on his face like, I don’t know what just happened, and he’s got like a hundred microphones, cell phones, and video cameras, and they’re like all in his face, and he’s just got this look like I don’t know what happened. So that was a moment that I really enjoyed making because it was something that the fans could not see, it’s not something you could see from your seat. It was much more personal. So I did start out as more of a documentary photographer, I wanted to do documentary stories , but I still do. But that’s what I really like about doing sports photography:  Interviews, getting something different.

Q:  What has been your favorite moment?

A: Gosh, sports wise, I think sitting there at the Final Four going wow, these dudes, I mean you cover the whole year, you start to know these guys,  they know you, and I was just sitting there and I was like, they are actually gonna pull this off, and then all of a sudden, I guess it was I was excited, and I was not excited that they were gonna win, or that they were gonna lose, but like, what am I gonna do, how am I gonna cover this, what’s gonna happen . Do I need to focus on coach, do I need to focus on the players, are they gonna win, are they gonna lose, to I need to get a rejection picture. I think the picture I had was when Chris Douglas Roberts was coming off the court with his jersey over his head and the Kansas players celebrating in the background, you know your thinking in the last few moments of the game, oh my gosh, what am I gonna do? How am I gonna cover this? How am I gonna shoot this? So it was exciting from that point because, there was a lot of action the last two minutes of the game, and it was new to me.

It’s like I had never seen a team win a national championship in person or lose one in person. So it was really exciting compared to the everyday norm of just covering a basketball game. (Me: Different element) There was a lot on the line for everybody, and we come from a town where it’s not the most well-to-do town, and they get behind their Tigers, so I knew everybody was gonna see these pictures, and I had gone to friends’ homes that didn’t know me at the time and seen pictures hanging up in their house. They didn’t know I had taken the picture, I was there, I took it, I can remember the moment like, just screaming, just foul, like everybody else said , just foul .

Q: What  do you love most about your job?

A: Sports photography wise, well, I do like the fact that I get to see these guys as human beings. You know, they’re put on a pedestal by a lot of people, most everybody puts them on a pedestal, I get to just see them as who they really are.  They’re just kids; they are playing video games, they’re going to class, you know, they’re looking for girls to talk to, girls are looking to talk to them, they’re just human beings in a way. That aspect of sports photography I really like. I mean I can be sitting behind a desk, that wouldn’t be too much fun, or I could spend my Friday night watching some football or traveling. I mean that’s another good thing about my job at the Commercial Appeal, I get to go to certain places that are really nice.

Q: Do you necessarily pick your assignments?

A: No, I go to every game, every game, I go to. Where ever they are playing, I go to.

Q: What is your relationship with other sports photographers?

A: I know all the guys around town because we’re all at the same sporting events.  I know who they are; there are a whole lot of them. I generally think there’s just a handfulof sports photographers who cover it … for news organizations.

Q: What is your relationship like with sports reporters? Do you have a relationship with them?

A: I travel with Jason, the beat writer for the Commercial Appeal. So we go to every game together.

Q: What are the difficulties, pressures of job security?

A: Sure! There is defiantly that. This industry is defiantly losing, coming from a newspaper standpoint, working at a newspaper, newspapers aren’t doing  the best right now. There’s not a lot of hope that they are going to last forever. I mean they are trying to figure out how they are going to make it a sustainable industry like it once was, but it is hit and miss on what we can do. But I am just glad I’m at a place where they still value what I do and they still send me to all the games because  they could easily pick up wire images, but they value that I can do it better.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

A: If you really want to be a sports photographer it’s much more than just taking the pictures, which can be hard enough. Cameras these days have made it much easier to do sports photography, that’s why it’s so many people out are there trying it, whether or not they’re good at it.  It’s in the eyes of the beholder, but generally there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes on to get to these events; to cover these events, to do it right it’s hard work.  It’s not just showing up and taking pictures.

For me it’s traveling, it’s putting cameras up, so I can get different angles, editing film, doing slide-shows, and getting them back to the paper in a timely fashion so I don’t miss deadlines. Some games that are late in the evening, if you have a nine o’clock game and the deadline is ten, you pretty much have halftime and if you don’t have anything by halftime, oh well, something’s going in the paper and your name is gonna be on it so, there’s pressures. But when you have done it as long as I have it’s just another day. You wake up, go to work, and go home.

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