If anyone’s work dispelled the old adage that great photographs were merely about ‘F8 and be there’ it is the work of Mike King, the award-winning sports photographer who died on 8 September at the age of 52. Sportsjournalists.co.uk reported that he collapsed while visiting his mother.
King worked for the The Observer from 1989 to the mid 1990s and as Chief Sports Photographer on the Sunday Telegraph for six years. In 2001 he won Sports Picture of the Year for his photograph of Fallers at the Chair during the 2001 Grand National, the image King was most proud of. The following year the judges decided not to give the award because nothing entered could match King’s winning image from the previous year.
In 1986 Mike King covered the football World Cup for AllSport, now part of Getty Images. Having captured the Argentinian star Diego Maradona lifting the cup in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City he appeared to have developed an understanding of the footballer and guessed rightly that Maradona would look over his right shoulder during the team line up before Argentina’s match against the USSR at the next World Cup in Italy in 1990. In the febrile atmosphere of Naples, where the Argentine captain played his club football, King knew Maradona would look round.
At the final in Rome King caught the West German striker Jürgen Klinsman tumbling with his head in his hands, his back arched like a cat’s. If anyone could capture such a moment, sharp and perfectly composed before auto-focus made it all too easy then Mike King could.
By combining hard work, technical skill and perception Mike King became one of the most respected sports photographers in Britain. The news of his sudden death shocked the profession.
Paying tribute on Facebook, Tim Bishop, who worked on the Sunday Telegraph picture desk in the 1990s, said King was “one of a select handful that the desk trusted to bring back the best, no matter the subject, whether action or feature. Mike never let us down.”
Mike Tarry writing on the BPPA web site said “Mike was without doubt one of the finest sports photographers this country has produced. I remember looking through his contact sheets in The Observer darkroom – every frame was usable,” said Tarry who King helped get work at the newspaper. “The pictures were all pin sharp and beautifully composed. Just give him a couple of Nikon F3s, a manual 300mm 2.8 and a 180mm and Mike would produce magic – he was a craftsman – autofocus was of no benefit to him at all.”
On King’s Flickrstream there’s a photo of a two-man bobsleigh taken at the Winter Olympics at Albertville in France in 1992. Kings’s comment, “Manual everything, focus etc. Kodachrome 64 asa, 300mm Nikon F3”, sums up his extraordinary skill for fellow professionals. The industry had moved on to auto everything and technical perfection when he uploaded the image in 2009 yet the speed and drama of Mike King's frame remains unsurpassed.
Graham Trott who worked with King at the Sunday Telegraph in the 1990s was in awe of King’s work. “He was a brilliant sports photographer, producing pin-sharp action and wonderfully creative images of so many different sports,” said Trott on Facebook. “While at times I struggled to follow-focus on my manual 600mm, covering internationals at Twickenham, he seemed to manage it effortlessly.”
“Always friendly, helpful and ready to share information and ideas, he was one of the good blokes,” said Trott. “No agenda, no attitude - just great to have around on a job.”
“Recent years had not been easy for Mike,” said Tim Bishop. “But they haven’t for so many ‘Fleet Street’ colleagues since an oil billionaire’s wallet waded into our industry.”
“Mike was the best of the best, a gentleman in the old fashioned sense,” said Bishop. “And as lovely a man to sit beside on a rainy night at Millwall as any you could wish to meet.”
On 11 August, less than a month before he died, Mike King shared an image on Twitter that wasn’t his. It showed a comet leaving a trail of light in its wake as it passed over an evening landscape. Written on the picture were some words attributed to the Buddha, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Mike commented, “So true.”
Mike King, sports photographer, 1962-2015.
Text © 2015 Graham Harrison
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