They had known and worked beside each other for years, capturing in photographs not only the moments of glory and agony of student athletes and professional sports stars, but also the beholders surrounding them, watching and waiting for that instant of transcendence.
Now shutterbugs Phil Fabrizio, George Smith, Jacqui South and David Wolfe have stepped out from behind the camera and into the limelight — or at least their photographs are. A curated exhibit of the four Montgomery County-based photojournalists’ sports-related images is on view in “Our Moment in Time!” through March 10 at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg.
“We’d been meeting as friends for a couple of years, usually during the downtimes of the shooting year,” said Fabrizio, an award-winning photographer who lives in North Potomac. “I thought [Bohrer Park] was [a great] location because the amount of people that walk through there that can see the exhibit, is on average, is about 2,000 people per week” as opposed to other initially suggested venues like the Arts Barn or the Kentlands Mansion.
The four “sideline” photographers began with thousands of images from their respective archives, with a central mission to cull down to a few more than a hundred sports-related photographs for the exhibit. “We initially started [with] what we thought as our specialties, where David is really fabulous with soccer and Phil is really great with swimming; I love basketball, and George really can do anything,” said South, who is based in Rockville. “We wanted to put images out there that really meant something to us.”
Fabrizio said that the “ground rules” for what images to choose included not putting too much emphasis on any particular school or any specific sport. “In the end, I think we got a pretty good diversity of the sports and the schools” throughout Montgomery County, Wolfe said.
“The last rule we had was that it had to be in a public venue,” Fabrizio said. “Because we concentrated on events that were publicly attended, we felt that we could easily show someone in the act of playing a sport or doing something without them being defined or taking advantage of their identity.
“We said that if we used any children, their face had to be kind of hidden,” Fabrizio said. “We didn’t want to put them in a position where they say, ‘I didn’t agree to that.’ But on the field of play, they were fair game.”
Furthermore, no matter how exquisite the photograph, the camera-men and -woman agreed that no image could be included in “Our Moments in Time!” without having an intriguing backstory. This encouraged the beholder to get more up close and personal with the image and perhaps also read the accompanying description of the circumstances behind its capture.
“We deal with death, with student athletes that died because of cancer or in a fight or, in some instances, drug deals gone bad,” Fabrizio said. “How do you introduce that without being too somber? So, we had to weigh that out and make sure we were presenting” any images of deceased athletes in a respectful fashion, he said.
“People say, ‘Wow, that’s a really nice picture,’ but there are some really incredible stories coming out of the county that people just aren’t aware of,” added South. “Even at the time the story is covered in the paper…the story may not have even touched on what we know about [the subject]. So, as photographers, we see a completely different side of what’s going on because we’re so close to what’s happened on the fields [of] the county.”
Photo Credit: David Wolfe
Sherwood High School wins the women’s softball state championship game against Northwest High School.
For some photos of soccer games in the show, Wolfe went back later to chat with the subjects in order to give greater context and inquire as to their thoughts at the moment the image was captured. These stories are displayed with the displayed photographs.
Fabrizio said that in the era of smartphones having such incredible image-capturing abilities, he and his fellow professionals, ironically, often now take pictures of sports spectators taking pictures of their own. He points to George Smith’s photograph that shows hundreds of spectators on the Avenel golf course in Potomac with their phones prepped to grab digital photos of Tiger Woods mid-swing.
“In terms of today’s technology, their [phone] cameras are silent. And us pros, who have to sit there near the tee to get that shot, if we click anytime while they’re in the backswing, we might get kicked off the course,” Fabrizio said with a chuckle.
Fabrizio recalled that, not long afterwards, he discovered Woods on the seventh tee at Avenel — walking alone and seemingly deep in thought. “When does Tiger Woods ever walk alone at a golf course?” he said. “I’ve got my big long lens at the top of the tee, there’s no other photographers there and I take three quick shots. He looks up, and he’s mad as hell at me. I can see it in his eyes: ‘You snuck up on me!’”
“You get the shots that mean something, and sometimes you just walk by and it happens,” Fabrizio said.
Wolfe pointed out that there is often a disconnect between what a photographer thinks is his or her best work and what the public responds to. “We get some amazing action shots, but oftentimes, the people are more interested in the interaction with the crowd than seeing some guy dunk a ball on a basketball court,” he said. “It’s that part that has been a real learning experience for me: What I think should be popular isn’t necessarily popular.”
South said she has learned a great deal from her three co-archivists, and that there sometimes exists a friendly competition when they find themselves covering the same events. She has more than once been frustrated with her equipment, only to have Wolfe, Fabrizio or Smith come over to gently correct a mistake.
“They’ll just look at me and shake their head and point to whatever stupid thing that I’m missing,” she said. “It’s been really great getting to know these guys and having a great resource on the field, and it’s nice to be able to look up to them and have them there as friends. It’s a really great relationship we’ve built over the years.”
“If we have work assignments we can’t meet, we’ll ask one of the others,” said Fabrizio of such internal referrals. “There is no competition when you walk onto the field and you see either David or Jacqui or George. You know right away you’re going to go over there and go, ‘What are you doing?’ Then it becomes a sequence of taking a picture of the other [photographer] to tease them later on. And we laugh about it.”
Such is the camaraderie and professional respect that Smith, Fabrizio and South will be taking photos at the spring wedding of Wolfe’s daughter.
Sometimes it’s all about timing and being in the right place at the right time to get the photo, and it’s this serendipity the photographers aim to impress upon the viewers of “Our Moments in Time!”
Fabrizio said that putting together the exhibit has been a labor of love, and perhaps something the foursome can replicate again down the line. “The challenge becomes how do we add to it, make it a little bit more special or pick out a different” subject matter, Fabrizio said. “I don’t think this is the end.”
The City of Gaithersburg presents “Our Moments in Time!” through March 10 at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 South Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. Gallery viewing hours are Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call 301-258-6394 or email email@example.com.