As the world begins settling into Olympic-watching mode, a trio of veteran photographers is staging a Bay Area exhibit to give a glimpse into their favorite Olympic shots, taken over many years of the games.
The exhibit titled "The Torch is Burning" runs Saturday June 19 - July 31st at Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park -- featuring the works of Bay Area photographers David Madison and John Todd, and East Coast-based David Burnett. Collectively, the group has covered 24 Olympic games.
"It is a spectacular event," Madison said, "because of the power that comes from having the best athletes, at the best moments."
Olympic Photographers Show Their Best at Menlo Park Gallery
The show is not only a glimpse through the lens of the seasoned sports photographers, it's also an insight into the intense sideline competition where photographers informally aim to outdo one another and capture the best shot.
"You get to see these photographers from around the world who are at the top of their game," said Todd, who photographed the 2012 London Olympic Games. "We’re all competing against each other to try and make the best images."
Todd, who works as the official photographer of the San Jose Earthquake Soccer Team, traveled to the 2012 games with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, which claimed a gold medal by beating Japan 2-1 in the finals. The exhibit features Todd's photo of U.S. Women's Team striker Alex Morgan launching after a ball during intense action.
"It looks like she’s flying in the air," Todd said. "For me it embodies what women’s soccer, women’s futbol has become."
Madison has eleven Olympic Games under his belt beginning with the Los Angeles games in 1984. His photo from that year of a pack of runners, overcame imperfect lighting to capture a unique image where the sprinters appear like ghostly silhouettes against the backdrop of the Los Angeles Coliseum. The photo inspired Madison to seek-out more artistic moments within the action.
"I’m looking for that moment that I can somehow extract something that symbolizes that event as a whole," said Madison, who has photographed Stanford football for five decades.
Madison said the physicality of photographing the games is akin to shooting three 49er football games in a single day -- multiplied by fourteen days. He likened the Olympic Games to a smorgasbord for photographers, with a banquet of visual athletic events on tap for the photographic feasting.
"Believe me," he said, "I wanted to have some of everything on the menu."
Burnett's presence in the exhibit lends weight to the notion that photographing the games goes beyond sports -- it's the visual power of the games and their pageantry that draws the best of the best.
Having photographed everyone from presidents, to war, to music legends, Burnett's Olympic photos seem to transcend the sports genre. His gritty black and white photo of runners crossing the finish line in the 2012 London Olympic Games would feel at home in an art house.
Both Madison and Todd plan to sit-out the Tokyo 2020 Games, which were rescheduled to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But Burnett plans to make the trek to Tokyo.
Todd said, like top athletes, photographers are trying to create a memory people will return to long after the games are wrapped and off to their next destination.
"For photographers the Olympic Games is the pinnacle as well," Todd said. "Because you’re trying for your own gold."