April 22, 2010

The Truth About Cornell Athletes and Sun Photo Shoots

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Former Sun managing editor Dan Margulis ’73 once wrote, “The Sun is not the best newspaper in the Ivy League … but is never one of the worst.” All things considered, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate statement. However, there is one thing that distinguishes The Sun’s sports section from those of the other Ivies (besides the fact that in one season we were covering four sports that all ended up making some noise on the national stage –– and in the same weekend. What up).  As far as I know, The Sun is the only student publication in the Ivy League to do photo shoots with athletes, and on a fairly consistent basis. When I externed with Sports Illustrated this past January, I was told that whenever S.I. does a feature on a particular athlete, the editors always try to ensure that the accompanying image is a portrait. When it’s not, it’s usually because the athlete in question did not agree to a photo shoot. So the magazine publishes an action shot instead.  Well, fortunately for myself and the other editors, Cornell athletes are classy individuals who always make time for The Sun. Not to mention they’re also talented models, who take direction (or lack thereof) quite well. Case in point: during our Fight Club shoot for the 2010 NCAA Tournament Supplement cover, my instructions to Ryan Wittman were basically along the lines of “Be Brad Pitt.” The advice I had for Chris Wroblewski was equally vague: “Be Ed Norton.” And did they deliver. They were better at being Brad Pitt and Ed Norton, than Brad Pitt and Ed Norton are at being Brad Pitt and Ed Norton.  The Sun has been photographing athletes outside of sporting events for years now, and last November proved my first exposure to this long-standing tradition. The site was Newman Arena, the players none other than Jeff Foote, Lou Dale and Wittman, who we have since harassed to appear in two other photo shoots –– a Cornell Daily Sun record. (Thanks again guys, my hope is that when you’re tearing up the pros and Sports Illustrated contacts you for a photo-op … you’ll remember where you learned it all from). Anyway, the occasion, as you can probably guess, was the 2009 Hockey and Basketball Supplement. While also memorable for other reasons, this marked my introduction to legendary Sun photographer Tina Chou –– known in some circles as the mysterious “Tina C.”  Since then, Tina and I have tag-teamed for three photo shoots –– all of them epic. Her photographing, me directing. Well, kind of. I basically stand around and make small talk with the athletes or hold some fancy (read: expensive) piece of camera equipment. And while Tina and I have been known to have our “creative differences” (as anyone affiliated with Slope T.V. Sports can attest), I strongly believe an addendum should be made to the infamous 161 list, and it should read “Appear in a Tina Chou photo shoot.” Because she really is that legendary.  A couple weeks after the H&B Supplement release, we hit up the Oxley Equestrian Center to photograph polo captains Max Constant and Lizzie Wisner for the Winter Sports cover. Now, if you think shooting athletes from the proper angle is tough … try doing it with horses. While simultaneously attempting to capture the sunset in the background. However, all of those factors proved a non-issue, as we were able to get the shots in spite of an interfering tractor that almost ruined our backdrop.  No disrespect to the others, but that was probably my favorite Sun photo shoot to date, with the exception of “Sex in the Stacks” in the DKE library. (Kidding). Max even gave us some polo magazines –– that currently have a permanent place in the sports department desk drawer –– for inspiration, which undoubtedly made my friend and “co-worker” Meredith Bennett-Smith feel better … after she forgot she was allergic to hay. Just a few weeks ago we wrapped up our supplements for 2009-10 by photographing the men’s heavyweight varsity eight crew for the Spring Sports cover –– which required us to be at the Cornell boathouse at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in the morning. I thought the only people who got up for 6:30 a.m. photo shoots were Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, but apparently that is not the case. Men’s rowing head coach Todd Kennett ’91 was probably the most into the idea as any coach we’ve worked with thus far; he even took us out on the launch so Tina could get some action shots of the guys during morning practice.  Two season-specific, two special edition Cornell Daily Sun sports supplements. But we’re not done just yet.  Consider this:  There are 1,112 varsity athletes at Cornell –– 220 of them seniors. Of those 220, 25 will be named the “Top 25 Senior Athletes,” as determined by myself and the other editors, with input from coaches and teammates.  Every year the list is published in the Slope Day issue of The Sun. Which essentially means no one reads it.  That said, this time around Tina and I decided to do something different. Instead of just publishing a compilation of names and respective accomplishments … we figured why not do a photo shoot with each of the 25? And why limit the spread to the print edition? Why not make a slideshow featuring all 25 senior portraits and leave it up on www.cornellsun.com all summer long, thus enabling the Cornell Basketball Blog to steal all our photos of the basketball players and not credit them to the Daily Sun? (Hah, not anymore –– column coming next fall: “How The Cornell Sun Went to War With the Cornell Basketball Blog. And Won”). 
 Anyway, about three weeks ago Tina started emailing all the nominated seniors and coordinating schedules in order to photograph them at their respective venues (Newman, Lynah, Oxley, Schoellkopf … the list goes on). As of last night, she had shot 15 of the 25, leaving 10 to go until the May 7 deadline, including men’s soccer standout Matt Bouraee, who is expected back from Dubai early that week.  There are a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around the Sun office –– “epic” and “legendary” among them. But 25 athletes in 20 days … now that’s just unprecedented.  Indeed, The Harvard Crimson ain’t got nothing on us.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown