Olympic Photographer Captures Portraits of Pure Athleticism

Talking about the challenges and thrills of covering the Olympic Games with photographer David Burnett .

Take away the politics, the doping scandals, and the threat of a Zika virus outbreak from this Summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and you’re left with an unparalleled display of sheer athleticism. With athletes training their entire lives to make it to the world stage, emotions run high, and capturing these spectacular moments of corporal accomplishment becomes an art form in itself.

Famed photographer David Burnett has covered the Olympic Games since 1984. He explains to The Creators Project that, because the Olympics draw the best athletes from around the globe, the games also draw equal tal. “So as you walk through the workspace of the press center," he says, "every seat taken by a world-class photographer, you see work that is commensurate with what the athletes are doing on the track or the field of play.”

And yet, Burnett’s line of focus isn’t the traditional victory pose. “Very often, my pictures will be a wider, broader view," he says, "showing the place, the context of what is happening. Those pictures mean a lot to me: I want to try and explain with my pictures what it would be like to be there, for the millions of fans who won't have the chance to attend. It's about the atmosphere and the sense of drama which accompanies the competition.”

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"Men's Platform Diving #1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. May 1996." © David Burnett / Courtesy of Anastasia Photo and Contact Press Images.

Burnett says the coverage of the games has been greatly influenced by technology. “30 years ago there were no digital cameras, and nothing like the same kind of high-speed, high-definition video cameras we have today," he explains. "The media is able to show things which were unimaginable a generation ago.” Burnett adds that today’s games seem to have “more energy, more excitement, more people watching around the world.”

So what does it take to get Olympics-ready? “I try to be as fit as I can be,” says Burnett, “because the 16 days of competition are tough not only on the athletes but those who cover them. You know that every year there are advances in the speed, distance, and ability of the athletes, and as we try and keep up, it means you have to be even more informed about which events are the ones to watch.”

Perhaps most importantly to Burnett is his interaction with the athletes. “For the most part, I think they accept that dealing with photographers and TV people are part of the 'game.'” But even so, Burnett is sensitive to the myriad of factors competing for athletes' attention. “I understand that for most athletes, those moments in competition are the highlights of their lives," he says, "and I try and manage myself to be aware of the pressure they feel."

"I want my pictures, but I certainly don’t want to do anything which will cause someone to underperform when it matters most to them.”

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Ski Jump. Park City, Utah, USA. February 2002. © David Burnett / Courtesy of Anastasia Photo and Contact Press Images.

You can check out David Burnett’s incredible Olympic photography on display at Anastasia Photo in New York until August 14th, and see more on his website.


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