Sports photographer captures joy and defeat

Sports+photographer+captures+joy+and+defeat

James DiBianco via Flickr

By Isabel Hanewicz, Robinson High School

Jeff Tuttle is a big believer in doing what you love. And as a sports photographer for over 20 years, he’s spent his time pursuing his passion.

He knows it’s never going to make him rich. There’s not a lot of money in sports photography, but for a guy who has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, there’s enough to pay the rent.

And he’s okay with that.

“I love what I do,” he said. “And I’ve told my two children that. Work kind of stinks sometimes. You have to get up and go and make money, so you might as well go and like what you’re doing.”

Tuttle worked as a sports photographer for the Wichita Eagle newspaper for over twenty years, and he loved it. But then the newspaper business started dying. He got frustrated, disappointed. Even his boss noticed that he wasn’t as happy.

It was time for a change.

So four years ago he left and started freelancing. That’s when the Wichita State men’s basketball team, the Shockers, came along. It started off slowly. They asked him to take photos for one game, then another.

Jeff, could you maybe come to St. Louis with us? they would ask. Please?

It wasn’t like his old job, where balance and objectivity was key. Wichita State didn’t need photos of the other side. There was only one story they really wanted told–theirs.

Taking photos for the Shockers was different, but Tuttle loved it. So when Wichita State offered him the job of team photographer, he took it.

The job had its downsides. Tuttle spent so much time at basketball courts, they all started to look the same, whether it was Los Angeles or Chicago. It’s taught him to appreciate the differences.

I’m from the journalism side of things, so it’s not supposed to get to me…[but] I was very disappointed. They were very disappointed. So it’s tough, it’s emotional for me too, but I don’t cry.”

— Jeff Tuttle

Sometimes, usually at the home court, there will be a chair with his name on it. Sometimes he’s herded in with all the other journalists.

Sometimes, he sees faces of joy, like when Wichita State beat the number one ranked team, Gonzaga. Those days, he has no qualms about shooting pictures in the locker room. Everyone likes to see happy faces.

“When we beat Gonzaga and [the Shockers] came into the locker room, they just went crazy,” he said. “I stood on a chair [to take pictures], and shot probably my favorite picture from Wichita State.”

Other days, all there is to capture is crushing defeat. Being two points away from advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Almost winning 36 games in a row. When this happens, Tuttle will take only a few quick frames in the locker room, even though he knows the university won’t use them. Crying coaches don’t make great PR.

Tuttle just watches. One loss doesn’t mean much after taking photos for over 20 years at sports games. Losing is an inevitability. “It’s a game,” said Tuttle simply. “Just a game.”

But working for the Shockers has softened him. He’s not just a newspaper photographer, like he was at the Wichita Eagle, he’s a part of the team. The players know his name. Tease him. Run off with his cameras, rearrange his the contents of his camera bag on the floor.

When Tuttle talks about the team, he’ll often say “we” instead of “they.” He may not be a 6’5″ center, but he’s a member of their family nonetheless. So when the Shockers lost to Kentucky by two points in the third round of the NCAA playoffs, even the guy behind the camera was a little upset.

“I’m from the journalism side of things, so it’s not supposed to get to me,” he said. “[But] I was very disappointed. They were very disappointed. So it’s tough, it’s emotional for me too, but I don’t cry.”

To Tuttle, the perks of his job are the best part. He travels with the team on chartered planes, makes jokes with point guard Fred VanFleet, and is Facebook friends with all the players. If the team will take him, he’ll get to go to Hawaii this Christmas for a game, which would really be a vacation.

It’s not the life of a newspaper reporter. But he loves it. And to Tuttle, that’s all that matters. “Life’s short,” he said. “Enjoy it.”