A photo, a story | In the clouds over “Air Jordan”

From the galaxy of photos taken from the career of Michael Jordan, this is without a doubt one of the most original. “Air Jordan” seen from above one had to think about. It was also necessary to have the technical means to do so. Flying a few feet taller than a flying man is not easy. Photographers Walter Ioss Jr. nevertheless launched this challenge in July 1987.

This American, who is educated at a school in New York, has been used to photographing sporting events since he was 15 years old, and had just collaborated with a German sports drink brand on an advertisement. ” They had this idea of ​​taking a tennis player, putting him on a red clay court and filming him earn from heaven to capture the shadow. I thought it was a hell of an idea The photographer (who did not respond to our requests) remembers the column “My best picture” of the Guardian.

Reproduce the idea, yes. But to what medium? Fortunately, Sports Illustrated, with whom he worked, contacted him shortly after to ask him to go out and photograph Michael Jordan for the magazine. Here is the appropriate support. Direction of the small town of Lisle, located in the suburbs of Chicago, where the star of the Bulls organizes a camp for children.

The basket lowered by 15 centimeters

The 23-year-old, who has just won his first league scoring title (37 points on average!), Also won his first dunk competition a few months earlier. Before he achieved the double the following year after a legendary duel against Dominique Wilkins. His reputation as a ferocious thrower is therefore already well established.

On the day of the shoot, after a first day of portraits of “His Airness”, Walter Ioss Jr. faces a dilemma: what outfit will the triple All-Star be wearing? ” My assistants painted one area of ​​this giant parking lot blue and another red. If he had worn his white uniform, we would have gone to the red box and this picture would have been called ‘The Red Dunk’. Michael Jordan finally shows up with his team’s red away jersey. We will therefore be entitled to “Blue Dunk”.

The other difficulty is finding a real NBA basket. With a fixed basket, it does not work, you have to use one on wheels. ” But we found none in all of Chicago! I could not believe it. We had to send it from St. Louis (Missouri), ”describes the photographer, who apparently equips himself with a nacelle to achieve his shooting angle. Important precision, the basket in question is voluntarily lowered by 15 centimeters. It’s custom and need for this kind of dunk pictures. ” It’s a lot easier that way », Notes the specialist, and less tiring for the model who will still jump against the circle 15 times for this image.

A dizzying picture

Over time, Walter Ioss Jr. will realize that this number of ordered dunks has its significance for the Bulls star. ” I thought, ‘We have Gatorade today, and they need 15 dunks.’ And he said, ‘Walter, I’ll give you three.’ “I can not work with three!” We ended up agreeing on eight. »

Being a good leader is the key in this kind of exercise with such personalities. “ The trick to photographing sports stars is to talk to them like a coach. They are used to being told what to do and they know nothing about photography, they need to be guided. You do not have much time and they appreciate not wasting theirs. “Reminiscent of the 79-year-old man whose goal has seen Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Chris Evert, Joe Montana, Arnold Palmer …

The day before the recording, everything is checked down to the smallest detail, also in terms of timing. The picture can only be taken between kl. 14.00 and 15.00, otherwise the player’s shadow will be too long. The finally captured shadow is perfectly proportioned to the graceful gesture of “Air Jordan”. The angle of the image creates a captivating false mirror effect and doubles the energy and movement of this can. This shadow also makes it possible to occupy the void near the player. Because yes, this picture is enough to make you dizzy.

Retouch or not?

I had no idea what I was catching that daycontinues Walter Ioss Jr. Originally, I had chosen a different image from the session, but my photo editor preferred this, which was maybe 1/100 of a second later. EHe just had a little more dynamism. In the upper left corner of the original, there were the boundaries of the red terrain, so I had to crop or retouch it. There is also this crack in the concrete in the middle, should I have removed it or not? I thought, ‘You know what? That’s part of the picture. ‘ »

This sequence also allowed him to become familiar with the Bulls player with whom he produced the book “Rare Air”, selling 800,000 copies. The photographer describes one amazing person, very intelligent “, whose pace, at the athletic level,” was unparalleled in the history of the sport “. Also a constantly coveted superstar.” Following the Chicago Bulls was like following the Rolling Stones. »

But when we took this picture, I had no idea he would become such a legend. He was popular in 1987, but not as popular as he has become. He once said that he thought I could not take a bad picture. But the truth is, no one could take a bad picture of Michael Jordan “Nicely ends Walter Ioss Jr.

Image credit: Walter Ioss Jr. / Courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

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