My father was a passionate sports fan. He was also the managing editor of a newspaper house—a combination that took him to four Olympic games. I inherited my love of sports from him and, having taken an interest in photography in my teens, I indulged both passions on the sidelines of various local sporting events. I knew that one day I would go to the Olympics to click pictures. Despite protests from a section of the ‘professional’ sports journalists, I got my press accreditation for the Seoul Games. They thought I was on a joyride. The noise promptly died down by the end of the Games’ first week as the sports pages of Deccan Herald and Prajavani carried my photographs daily.
Back in 1988, newspapers in India, and for that matter in most parts of the world, were in analog and in black and white. My preparation for Seoul included packing an entire darkroom (portable enlarger, trays, chemicals, paper and so on) into a suitcase. I never had to open it. Kodak, the sponsor, had provided a state-of-the-art film processing unit and a common darkroom to make prints. They would replenish my film stock at almost the same rate at which I was consuming film! It was the only Games I shot (almost) entirely in black and white.
Beginning with the Atlanta Games in 1996, the analog to digital revolution—and then the advent of the internet—brought about major changes in photojournalism. Digital cameras made their appearance towards the end of the 1990s, but they were very expensive and bulky, among other things. Nevertheless, the time and effort they saved was a great relief. The Games at Athens in 2004 and then at Beijing in 2008 have been completely digital.
A multi-sport gala like the Olympics presents unique challenges to the photojournalist. With numerous events taking place simultaneously, taking a call on what to cover can be agonising. Opting to cover an India hockey match instead of the women’s weightlifting event at the Sydney Games in 2000 was a bad one. India drew the match at the Olympic Park, while Karnam Malleshwari took the bronze medal in downtown Sydney.
The world’s greatest sporting event is very special, in many ways. Experiencing just one Games was exhilarating. Going to six as a photojournalist is something I had never dreamt of. With London 2012 fast approaching, I can feel the butterflies aflutter in my stomach again. The excitement grows.
(K.N. Shanth Kumar is the publisher of the Deccan Herald and Kannada publications Prajavani, Sudha and Mayura)