Walter Iooss: Trust Is Everything

Written by Joe Santa
Photography by Charlie Mostoller

Photography is the only thing that Walter Iooss has ever known. “I had a paper route for two weeks, but that was about it,” he explained to his good friend Steven Fine, photo editor of Flipboard. “It’s just instinctual.” Walter fell in love with the camera in 1969 after developing a roll of film that opened up his entire world. He began to travel that surface at age 17, when he scored his first assignment with Sports Illustrated. 52 years later, he believes that trust is what kept him going. “Trust is everything,” says Walter; it’s what’s gave him access to the most notorious and beloved sports personalities in the world, including Michael Jordan. During an early trust building exercise at the 1987 slam dunk competition, Walter asked Michael if he could clue him in on where to be for the best shot facing the camera. “Michael tapped his knee, I raised my camera, and he landed in my lap,” Walter remembers. “He then motioned me to the left for the next photograph," which became one of the most iconic images of Michael, leaping from the free throw line. Iooss also had the opportunity to work with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier back in 2008. The two boxers were fierce competitors some forty years ago, but on this day it was clear that Ali’s real battle was with Parkinson’s disease. Before Walter pressed the shutter, Frazier grabbed Ali’s weakened right hand to offer his bitter rival support. It was an unthinkable moment of trust and respect. “You always remember the pivotal days in your life,” says Walter. “And I think I’ll end on that.”

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