I recently finished a fantastic book by Sir Ken Robinson called The Element. Sir Ken speaks globally about transforming education to better channel students toward their passions as opposed to churning out assembly line students. I was fortunate enough to find my passion in college, but we all know there are people who help us transform our passion into a lifestyle. One of those people for me was photo editor Jim Colton.
Jim opened doors for me in 1989 after I met him at the third Eddie Adams Workshop for photojournalists in upstate New York. Whether he remembers or not, Jim told me to use his name as a recommendation when hitting Manhattan for the tried-and-true portfolio meetings with editors at Newsweek, TIME, Business Week and many others. Like many before me, I was pimping my work in hopes of jump starting my magazine career. His offer was a big opportunity. I started receiving assignments not long after and there’s no doubt in my mind that he helped pave that path for me.
Soon after Jim left Newsweek to join Sports Illustrated as their Picture Editor I received a call from him to do a job. I remember it as clear as day. Whereas most of the work I had shot for Jim’s editors at Newsweek was photojournalistic in nature, he wanted to know if I could shoot a strong portrait of a female boxing referee. Gwen Adair became the first assignment I shot for SI but certainly not the last. Jim was again gracious with his recommendations to SI editors that they give me a try which led to a steady flow of work.
The slideshow above reflect the assignments from Jim. They ranged from strange (Pigeon Racing in Las Vegas and English Fox Hunting in California) to interesting (Opening Day for Trout Season, Disabled Sports Competition for Vets) to chaotically fun (Canine Frisbee Disc Championship) to Where Are They Now portraits. Hell, I even shot poker for him! But drawing on his deep roots in photojournalism, he was also kind enough to assign me some important stories about the Salt Lake City Olympics, child molesting in youth sports and the lack of black athletes in baseball. Basically, when Jim called, I knew it was going to be good.
One that stood out was the Canine Frisbee Disc Championship. This was back in the film days when we would shoot and then race to the nearest big city airport to ship the film on a flight to New York. A carrier was dispatched to grab it and get it to the Time/Life lab. From there, it went to the editor and, with any luck, into the pages of the world’s best sports magazine. The event was in a small park near San Diego’s zoo. I arrived with long glass in hand, ready to make some images and sure this was going to be like shooting ducks in a barrel. Man, was I wrong. I was stunned at the chaotic nature of the event. Dogs were flying every which way and the background was a mess of white tents. I laid on the ground to get an upward angle with a clean background and blasted away. But there was little way of knowing which way a dog would leap in an attempt to snatch the Frisbee. I squeezed off over 20 rolls in less than a couple of hours and put the film on a flight. I had absolutely NO hope that I had a single, decent frame. And the funny thing is, that’s really all that Jim asked for. One decent frame! He wanted an image for the magazine’s high real estate section, Leading Off, where one image graces two pages at the front of the magazine. One image, dammit, for the best spot in the mag! I was sure I blew it, but I held my breath for two days and waited to hear from him. As luck would have it, Jim found more than one frame and put together two pages of images and seemed more than pleased.
I definitely don’t want this to sound like we lost Jim, because everyone knows he has a ton of life AND passion left in him. Yes, he’s leaving Sports Illustrated, but that’s surely not the end of anything (in my opinion). He has his own private fishing hole that will occupy his time, which makes me jealous as hell, but I’m certain he’ll continue to serve the photojournalism community the way he, his respected father and his beloved brother, Jay, did for so many years with such passion and dedication.
I just hope to pick up the phone again and here his unmistakable, “Misssssterrrr Bigelow…….Jimmy Colton here.” Then I know for sure I’m in for something good!
Til then, happy fishing to a great editor!