mike powell

Mike Powell, author of:  A GAME TO LOVE

Mike “MP” has been a devoted fan and student of WF, especially when i lived in LA.   MP shot the pics in The Winter Athlete and many other ‘ilg’ pics…below,  i interview him for his absolutely stunning new book, a copy of which i encourage all of you to enjoy!

I interviewed MP right before he left to shoot another Tour de France,  he wrote:

“I think the WF tribe might be interested in my next book on the Tour and
here’s a facebook link to a fan page on that book that I will be keeping
active during the Tour, please, please, please be my friend!” here is the link:


game to love

ilg, in-joying my perfect “summertime svadhyaya”…a chi-filled book from a WF Student!


El Coache:  MP!  your drop-dead BEAUTIFUL new book TOTALLY TRANSCENDS ‘sport photography’…what you’ve accomplished is High Art recollected from the Sacred Sweat of world-class tennis champions…was this your intent from the beginning, or did the Higher Ones just kinda ‘take over’ your project at some point?

Mike Powell:  Thanks Steve, doing this book was like a go around at shooting sports for me. I used to be on the road covering all kinds of sport most of the year and so often I tried to fit in a little “art” in-between getting the job done and telling the story of the day. When the chance to shoot specifically for a book came I not only got to go back to events after a
break of some years but with the brief that I could indulge myself. So I got to play without the pressure of a daily deadline.

As great as that sounds it was also crunch time, I knew that whatever came out the other end was as good as I could be. No excuses. That’s a motivator.

EC:  Native American’s in my beloved Southwest are traditionally shy of photography…they say that a picture ‘steals the soul’ of a person…as i lingered over each of your shots,  i could not help but agree;   you really captured the Chi, the Lila Rasa, the Soul of these great champions and their environment.   is that a technique that can be taught;  can you teach a photographer to ‘shoot the chi’?

MP: I spend a lot of time court side shooting. Often while I’m shooting what I’m really doing is observing the player. How they move, their mannerisms, eccentricities, pace, how they handle stress, react to the high’s and low’s. As I build up file of their repertoire I can start to really take images that show who they are beyond the surface veneer. So if I had to teach a photographer to ‘shoot the chi’ I would say, as in most things, practice a thousand, thousand times. (I shot 2-3000 frames a day)

EC:  i know my best pics arrive when ilg is most empty…i might intellectually ‘compose’ a shot…yet, truly…when the moment arrives to shoot…it’s purely an empty moment filled with form; emptiness is form;  form is emptiness.   do you practice ‘being empty’ or anything like that as you shoot?

MP:  Very insightful el coache’…My best moments shooting come when I surprised myself. So often I head out into the field with an imaginary list in my head of how I would like the day to go and what I would like to come back with. The best moments came when I intuitively felt an image was there but didn’t know what it was, so I just shot, not for my list but just to see what would happen next. So often I had walked past these “surprise” images day after day and not see them. But when I was open to it and the conditions where right, light, player, crowd, time of day etc,
they happened. These where the best moments of the whole book for me.

EC:  why Tennis?…you are best known as a Tour de France cycling photog, aren’t you?

MP:  Not really, I would say if I was best known for anything it’s shooting everything. I can’t think of a sport I haven’t shot at some point in the last 30 years (gulp) of my professional life.

Tennis was picked because the grand slams although all the same sport are four very aesthetically different events, perfect for a book shot in one year and it’s globally popular (my publisher likes to sell books).

To me they are athletes and I love to shoot athletes at the top of their
game in any sport.

EC:  the editing of this book must have been MASSIVE…do you do drugs to get you through that?   Pranayama?   Staccato Technique Jump Squats?   comment on the role of Patience and Perseverance in the life of a pro photog.

MP:  I would do my first edit at the end of the day when I still had the most emotional connection to the day, this was often very late that night. I would then wait (when deadlines allowed) for quite some time before going
back to look again so I could look at the work with no attachment and treat the edit as if it was someone else’s work and not mine. Photographers are notoriously bad at editing their own work.

The designer and publishers also had input, which lead to some stress and heated debate but I’m sure, as an author, you understand what being edited is like.

EC:  whose gonna win Wimbie this year?  your gentleman’s pick and ladies pick please…and why.

MP:  Well it looks like another Federer/Nadal final at least I hope so. I would have to go with Rafa. Pure personal fave, he’s a matador and has amazing energy on the court. For a photographer being able to see the energy in
his face and body is what excites me.

For the women I was really pulling for Serena to overcome her bad year and make the comeback stick. I like her, she and her sister are years ahead of the sport and broke all the rules of the tennis establishment. Pironkova*
won last year but it would be nice to see Sharapova complete the long comeback and bag another slam.

* (note: Pironkova lost yesterday to Kvitova

EC:  have there been any WF teachings that have helped make you such a successful photog?

MP:  Absolutely, not just in photography but in life and teaching my kids. I think some have shown themselves in the answers to your well crafted questions.

If I was to point to one in particular it would be to practice, a thousand, thousand  times until the practice becomes you. There are no short cuts to doing something worth while, one should always choose the hard way. This is a lesson my kids are learning and already getting at the ages of 8 and 10 but I have to practice every day to.

The lesson I find the hardest but always gives back in untold rewards is that of letting go. We discussed this in your question regarding “being empty and in the moment”. I struggle with being a control freak and when I do let go of that control I discover that old boundaries break down.

Thanks for the great questions and as usually making me think.



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