Iooss became a pro at age 17: "When I graduated from high school, I went
to work." His first major assignment from SI came in September of 1961,
when he photographed Roger Maris' 61st home run, breaking Babe Ruth's
record at Yankee Stadium. (Iooss' very first SI assignment came during
the summer of that year, "shooting an 80-year-old sailor." Iooss'
photo appeared on the back page of SI.)
Manon, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model photographed in Bermuda,
As he puts it, he was lucky enough to keep working. Iooss says that another
youthful photographer, Neil Leifer, covered a lot of major sporting events with
him for SI. He says it was like "two boys doing a man's job."
Iooss says wistfully, "I photographed the great Johnny Unitas at 15 or
16, and finally met him years later--he was the last of my boyhood heroes."
He met Unitas in 1999, on what Iooss describes as "a very awesome day,"
to photograph him for the cover of SI. "It was such a tie into my childhood;
he was the consummate field general." (Unitas passed away in the fall
Supermodel Paulina Porizkova, photographed in Jamaica, 1980, for
SI's annual swimsuit issue.
Today, Iooss resides in Montauk, New York, with his wife Eva, a former model.
They have two sons, Christian, who's a photo editor at Golf World, and
Bjorn, a photography major at Rhode Island School of Design.
Iooss seems to have an instinctive gift for lighting, composition, and being
at the right place at the right time. He shoots in a variety of formats ranging
from 35mm (a Canon EOS-1v), on up to 8x10. "And when I can get my hands
on a Polaroid 20x24, I do that too." He shoots film, primarily Fujichrome
color transparency and black-and-white print films at varying speeds. "They
all have their uses--you just have to learn about them," he points
out. As for lighting, Iooss says he uses studio lighting on location much of
the time--"mostly with a 1200 watt-second Profoto or Comet."
Ali, Berrian Springs, Michigan, 1996.
In 1999, SI produced a show for its 20th anniversary with a celebration of
the greatest athletes of the 20th century. "They brought some tremendous
sports heroes to Madison Square Garden," he says. "You don't
often see these people after their careers are over." Iooss immortalized
the evening by taking a group photo with a 20x24 Polaroid camera. "I photographed
19 of undoubtedly the greatest assemblage of athletes you'll ever see,"
he beams, adding that this was one of the most memorable events he had ever
He once spent six or seven months with Michael Jordan to take pictures for the
book, Rare Air (1993). Of the experience, Iooss says, "He made me understand
just how special basketball was to him." He adds that he was fortunate
enough to work with Jordan again in '98, to photograph him for SI. "It
was one of the rare times I got to work with someone twice."
He's also photographed children's sports, such as some kickboxing
games in Thailand in 1995, and "Cuban Children of Sport," an SI
story in 1999, when Iooss took two trips to Cuba.
Holyfield, New York City, 1999.
Pushing the Limits
His advice to aspiring pros is, "To be good at anything, you have to do
it often, to be thinking about photography all the time." Iooss says that
most people with good ideas, a particular style and a good eye can do well,
and beyond that, "you have to
use your heart, your eye and your mind." He emphasizes the fact that people
don't always have to be in great locations to take great pictures, and
that a talented individual can create great shots anywhere. Originality is key:
"Try to have your own vision."
A veteran of many years behind the lens, Iooss appreciates the importance of
creative growth. "You've got to push the limits of your own photography,"
he comments. "People are looking for something edgier all the time."
To see more of Walter Iooss' work, visit his Website at www.walteriooss.com.