Vol. 52, No. 2 • January 2015 • .pdf version
• Dana O'Neil: Remembering Bryan Burwell
• Joe Mitch: The treasured relationship with Oscar
• Jernstedt named Katha Quinn Award winner
• USBWA to honor Clarkson's eye
• A special day with Lauren Hill
• Paige, Okafor head preseason lists

USBWA to honor Clarkson's eye, 60 years of Final Fours


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Take a bow, Rich Clarkson.

Your practiced eye, your mastery of telling a story with a camera set you apart. Way, way apart.

What has distinguished Clarkson's acclaimed work for decades was his gift for seeing through his camera lens what everyone else was missing. Writers know it as imagery. It is the uncommon, the remarkable, the dramatic, the powerful. It is what brings a story or photo alive. Clarkson's best pictures need no accompanying text. One look really is worth a thousand words.

In the world of sports photography, Clarkson stands alone. His peers and proteges alike use words like transcendent to describe his talent. He always was a step ahead, searching for ways to make each picture better than the last. He was the first to mount a camera on a basketball backboard, which speaks to his creativity.

His photos have appeared on dozens of Sports Illustrated covers, on the pages of Time and Life magazines and in countless books.

His favorite sport is college basketball. His favorite event is the Final Four. Fittingly, the USBWA will honor Clarkson and his legendary career on April 6 at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

This Final Four will be Clarkson's 60th. His first was in 1952 when he was a freshman at Kansas.

These days he heads his Denver-based Rich Clarkson and Associates LLC, a multimedia company, and, at age 82, does so with a spirited, unending appetite for new challenges. Winston Churchill said success is never final. The secret, Clarkson says, "is a martini every night." His group provides photography for all 89 NCAA championships. His series of workshops bring together annually a faculty of world-class photographers and networking opportunities, a Godsend for aspiring photographers.

He has mentored nearly 100 photographers, some of whom have won Pulitzer Prizes, some of whom are photo editors at major publications. All carry his weighty influence, inspiration and principles of photojournalism – news and sports – he drilled into them. They're still learning from him. They are his legacy.

Clarkson grew up in Lawrence, Kan. His family lived above his grandmother's restaurant.

His basketball baptism came at age seven at the knees of basketball nobility. One day he wandered into a KU practice. Phog Allen introduced him to James Naismith.

By the time he was in junior high he already was serious about journalism. He produced a mimeographed newspaper with 35 subscribers. Another interest was airplanes. This led to his first big-time interview. At dinner that night his dad asked if he came back with an autograph. The story, as Clarkson told the Denver Post, went like this: "I said, ‘Dad, journalists don't do that.' And that is why, to this day, I don't have Orville Wright's autograph."

In high school, he was covering the Jayhawks and selling his photos to newspapers in Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. He devoured photography magazines. He studied lighting techniques in photos. He worked at a camera store. Years later, as his reputation flourished, he got access at sports events no one else got, thanks to the widespread trust and respect he earned. Adolph Rupp let him shoot from the Kentucky bench. Then, again, you always make your own luck.

Clarkson demanded perfection from himself. Detail and innovation were up front. He pursued his passion in a lifetime of storytelling that began on the day he borrowed his mom's box camera.

His achievements as one of America's premier photographers are displayed at the Richard C. Clarkson Gallery. It was dedicated in 2012 at the William Allen White School of Journalism on the Kansas campus, where it belongs. Why? Because Clarkson is KU to the core.

Someone once asked him what makes a great photographer. He said, "Uniqueness. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

Yes, he knows it well. His camera, his pictures, his storied career sum up the very essence of unique.

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