Friday, August 6, 2004

Decent exposure: Turning the lens on David Seelig

David Seelig was on hand for David Wells perfect game at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1998. The Yankees blanked the Minnesota Twins, 4-0. Seelig called it the most exciting game he has ever shot. Photo by David N. Seelig

Photographers are historians, artists and observers rolled into one.

They chronicle our lives, the highs and lows, despair and joy. They catch us at our best and worst and every-thing in between.

For 33 years, David Seelig has been capturing images on film.

A photographer for the Idaho Mountain Express since 2000, Seelig?s professional background is steeped in sports, music and politics.

Married to Jennifer Seelig for four years, Seelig is step-father to her four children, Frances, Rose, Vince and Emma. The family lives in Hailey.

While the word tranquil could be applied to his current life, it was not always that way.

Born in Queens, New York in 1957, Seelig and his family moved to Manhattan?s East Village when he was seven. Growing up in the East Village in the sixties was tumultuous, turbulent and tough. Drugs and crime were rampant and fact.

But for Seelig, and the camera has ? literally ? always given him some-thing to hold on to.

His interest in photography was piqued as an 11-year old.

?I knew from the time I was five I wanted to be an artist, but even as a child my paintings stunk,? he said.

?As a 13-year old I went to a camp that had a darkroom. The photogra-phy counselor taught me and another kid.?

Seelig?s father bought him his first camera, a Pracktica Nova One.

?My parents supported my habit. My mother bought my first enlarger. I shot everything. High school sports, everything,? he said.

Sadly, Seelig lost his parents while still in his teens. His father died in a car accident when he was 14 and his mother passed away from cancer two years later.

On his own at age 16, Seelig found solace behind the camera.

?It?s a lot better than drugs. Where I come from I could have been shooting dope from 14 or 15 on. I lost a lot of friends to it. Photography gave me a direction,? he said.

The boy he attended camp with was working at a newspaper in up-state New York and provided Seelig with press passes to the New York Cosmos. In the beginning the Cosmos were just another team in the North American Soccer League. Then in 1975 they signed game?s biggest star ever, Pele?.

?In Pele?s opening game, I got his first goal. It was a header. After that I was hooked,? Seelig said. ?I think that is my favorite image because I shot it with such primitive equip-ment.?

Professionally, his big break came when he was 21. Shooting a political demonstration at the White House, Seelig captured images of an Indian climbing over the White House fence, throwing leaflets and being appre-hended by security. The Associated Press ran the photos with stories throughout the country and it gave Seelig a foothold in the profession.

It was at another political rally that Seelig got his first taste of rock ?n? roll.

?In 1983 I was shooting an anti-nuke protest and then Linda Ronstadt showed up. And then Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. My cousin ran security and I got on stage and shot the hell out of Springsteen. That is how I fell into music.?

?But the music business is rough. Sometimes you show up at an event and you think you have a press pass and all the sudden you don?t. It?s a tough business to be a freelancer in.?

In the eighties and nineties, Seelig shot for ?anybody and everybody.?

?Baseball America, Sport Maga-zine, I crept into SI (Sports Illus-trated) a few times, ESPN Magazine a lot.?

That evolved into shooting ath-letes for trading card companies like Pinnacle, All Sport and Donruss, which he does to this day, balancing it with the Mountain Express and shooting acts for the Idaho Center in Nampa.

Seelig pulled up a chair for a chat on Wednesday

JZ: New York was and is a sports hotbed. What teams did you grow up rooting for?

DS: The Yankees, Knicks, Rang-ers, Giants.

JZ: Are you still a fan?

DS: I am as strong as ever about the Yankees. Not so much the Knicks and Rangers. I am not that big of hockey fan anymore. I am still a big Giants fan.

JZ: For you personally, what was the most exciting sports event you ever shot?

DS: David Wells? perfect game. And the last game of the 1999 World Series between the Yankees and the Padres just because it was the last game of the Series and they won it in New York. But for tension there was nothing like the perfect game. The tension in trying to get one of those suckers was unbelievable. Same with (David) Cone?s, but the first one was more exciting.

JZ: Do you think the media por-trays professional athletes in a worse light than they actually are?

DS: Especially if they are black. Rickie Henderson was a great guy. He kept his teammates loose and was a lot fun to be around. But he could get women the writers couldn?t and they hated him for it. Yeah, he spoke in the third person and was a little bit weird. Larry Walker is not very friendly but he never gets ripped. He?s white. I think the media has it in for black people. They aren?t sup-posed to get injured. Rickie Henderson had a torn hamstring and they said he was faking it. It would never happen with a white guy. When something goes wrong with a white guy they don?t make it as public.

JZ: What is the most boring sport to shoot?

DS: Tennis. It?s boring because you are following one person who is going to hit a ball back. In baseball anything can happen. Football there is action all over the place and hockey and basketball are the same way. I can enjoy tennis, but it is not as ex-citing as the others.

JZ: Who has been the most gra-cious athlete you have shot?

DS: Probably Jim Thome. He used to be with Cleveland. Now he plays with Philadelphia. Of all the big stars he is the one that will pose for anyone if he has a few minutes. He has al-ways been really nice. The demands upon a star?s time are incredible. They won?t find a way to make the time like he will. Pele? was great and he was a bigger star than everyone.

JZ: Is there any difference be-tween shooting a professional sport and an amateur?

DS: The tension level is higher in pros. But in terms of shooting action, no. Pro sports are so much faster. If you think you can shoot pro football after shooting high school football you are in for a big surprise.

JZ: How hard was the hit you took on the sidelines of the Seattle Sea-hawks football game?

DS: I told (coach) Mike Holmgren afterwards to tell (Ken) Hamlin he hits like an old lady. He can?t even take out a 46-year old. My equipment was messed up but I was fine. Hamlin was very nice after the game. He asked me if I was all right and I said, yeah, it was nothing.

JZ: Have you ever taken a picture of someone as an amateur and had them become famous?

DS: No, but I am hoping.

JZ: When you are shooting some-thing what is the feeling that accom-panies it? Is it a feeling of creativity or just business?

DS: When you are shooting a good event it is a high. When you are shooting well it is totally in the mo-ment. It?s just like anything else you are totally involved in. You don?t think about anything. You are looking and thinking what can I do to get a shot. It?s not a conscious thing. It just takes over.

JZ: Whom do you admire profes-sionally?

DS: Chuck Solomon, Heinz Klu-etmeier, Walter Yost. As a kid Walter Yost and Neil Leifer were my favor-ites. In music, Jim Marshall and David Gahr.

JZ: How competitive is the action between photographers on the side-line?

DS: It depends where you are. At Yankee stadium it?s intense because there was not enough room for every-body. It?s calmed down a bit because now the Yankee photographer desig-nates where you stand.

JZ: Any iconic photos you wish you had clicked the shutter on?

DS: Ali standing over Sonny Lis-ton by Neil Leifer. I can?t imagine anything cooler than that. That was a great shot. Janis Joplin lying on her side with a bottle of Southern Com-fort. Jim Marshall gave me a copy of that.

JZ: Finish the sentence: In ten years I will be?

DS?happy with my wife.

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