Golf Courses

Golf And The Power Of The Still Image

by Rob Matre
For Waggle Room
April 8, 2009

To accompany Golf Viewing, my current exhibition of golf photographs at The Marietta / Cobb Museum of Art, I began to post daily photos with commentary on Golf In Context to provide further insight into each image.  When the kind folks at Waggle Room asked me to do the same for them in a guest appearance, I decided to choose a photo that I have never printed or featured in my photo journal.  To be timely, I wanted to choose an image from The Masters, and now that Gary Player has decided this year’s Masters will be his last, this image of Player alongside Jack Nicklaus became a logical choice.

In consideration of a successful photographic image, the key ingredient is composition.  I believe that all of the elements of this photograph are working in harmony and result in a good composition.  It would be tempting for many photographers and editors to want to go tight on this shot.  However, the surrounding environment only adds to the integrity of the image.  Notice how the players are framed by the natural elements of grass below and trees on the sides and above.  The patrons sitting on the hill beyond also add a sense of depth.  All of the energy is feeding off the figures- their placement, postures and variety of strides adding to the intrigue.  Although an artist should not be bound by hard and fast rules, concepts such as the rule of thirds and dynamic symmetry should always be considered and often applied.

Walter Iooss Jr.
Arnold Palmer & Jack Nicklaus
Laurel Valley CC, Ligonier, PA
PGA Championship, 1965
[ click image to enlarge ]
So, I have decided this photo works visually, but for it to succeed, there must also be a meaning to it; a reason for us to hold our look, a reason to care.  When I look at this image, I immediately think of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment, which he described as "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression".  An obvious example of the decisive moment in golf is Hy Peskin’s photograph of Ben Hogan’s one-iron at Merion in the 1950 U.S. Open.  My favorite will always be Walter Iooss Jr.’s photograph of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the locker room at Laurel Valley during the 1965 PGA championship.  This is a photograph that continues to reveal its many layers with each viewing.

We all know about the treasured Masters moments from years past; there are too many to mention here.  But what about the unguarded moment of poignant significance the TV cameras will never capture?  I am careful not to venture into the realm of sentimentality, but there is certainly an historical and timeless sincerity to this photo.  It succeeds in my stated attempt to create an “instant nostalgia” and to “make history out of next to nothing.”

I believe the power of the still image reigns supreme over the moving image.  There is a seemingly infinite number of moments worth capturing on a golf course, whether it’s The Masters or my son hitting range balls.  It is my honor and privilege to capture unique images and share them with the world.

But I am certainly not alone.  We are lucky to have so many talented and skilled photographers covering the game of golf.  I look forward to watching this year’s Masters coverage on TV, but I also look forward to seeing all of the still images in the newspapers, magazines and websites that will follow.  When you see these photos, take the time to look for the names of the photographers on the credit line.  Among the media, they deserve the same name recognition that writers and commentators often earn.