For photographer Andrew Shurtleff, the goal in covering sports and political events is “to report the story — whether winning or losing — through photographs. I look for moments that reveal what’s really going on.” Shurtleff, as director of photography for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, has photographed the competitors — UVA sports teams as well as visiting titans of politics — from President Barack Obama, to Justice Anthony Scalia, Republican contenders Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and front runner Donald Trump.
While emotions run high both on the sports fields and in political arenas, the major difference in shooting them, says Shurtleff, is that politicians are tightly programmed and scripted; there’s no play for losing. Athletes and their fans let their feelings fly. “Covering politicians so choreographed, with planned security and restrictions, it’s hard to find real moments. We can only go certain places and get certain angles, and even those angles are often planned. Probably more for security reasons. The real moments are usually way off camera.
“Looking for that moment, I was impressed by how close they allowed photographers when the President came to town. He went down to shake hands and people were so excited they were reaching out like he was a rock star. A couple of ladies were just freaking out. ‘Oh my god!’ Eyes bulging. I thought, ‘Ok, here we go.'”
No such spontaneous moments sparked Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s visit to UVA professor Larry Sabato’s political science class in 2014.
When Supreme Court Justice Anthonin Scalia addressed the UVA Law Review’s 100th anniversary dinner, Scalia’s handlers restricted Shurtleff, the only photographer present, to three minutes. “That was it,” he says. “So I shot fast with a 300 mm lens from the back of the room.”
In 2012, Shurtleff moved in close for a candid moment when Vice President nominee Paul Ryan stepped off the podium and into the pit to greet his supporters, his bodyguards hovering. Once in the crowd, Ryan and his fans briefly shared their enthusiasms.
Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell and wife Maureen were caught off guard during a last minute stop at the Charlottesville airport in 2009. Five years later, Virginia’s First Couple were indicted on federal corruption charges and convicted on a majority of counts by a federal jury. The only Virginia governor to be indicted or convicted of a felony, McDonnell was sentenced in January 2015 to two years in prison.
Donald Trump opened Trump Vineyard Estates outside of Charlottesville to grand fanfare in the fall of 2011. The 2,000 acre Estate includes the Trump Winery run by Trump’s son Eric. Sporting triumph, Trump purchased the prize, foreclosed property from former owner and millionaire Patricia Kluge. “Trump’s in the background but looks like he’s thinking, ‘I’m running the show here. These are my figureheads heads up front.’
“I don’t believe in posing. It has to be the real shot,” says Shurtleff, adding, “A photographer can make a politician look good or bad. We have an influence in which photos we choose to run.”
In shooting sports, Shurtleff aims for unihibited action, documenting the sportsmanship, the game, the team, coaches and fans, usually with only seconds to click. His job: to tell the story win or lose. “I go into game mode, constantly watching the players, the coaches, mascots, the referees. I’m trying to figure out what that moment is before it actually happens. Everyone likes shooting sports because the emotions are raw and revealing. I like going into a game with a blank mind, trying to let it happen in front of me. If you go with expectations of certain shots, you’re going to limit what you’re seeing. When you don’t worry about what you’re going to get, whatever happens happens.
“It doesn’t matter if UVA is number one, third or the worst team. At the end of the game, I’m either going to get that celebration moment or not. If they win and are all rushing out on the field, I’m running out first to get that shot of the coach, the players running all the way around the field to shake the hands of the fans. Or, I’m going to wait and get that same shot of that one guy who didn’t make the field goal or who missed the touchdown catch, sitting on the bench with his head down. That tells the story.”
Shurtleff may have more than told the story in his telling 2011 photo of UVA head basketball coach Debbie Ryan. “It was the final game of the season and another bad lost for the Cavaliers. This moment with head coach Debbie Ryan summed up the feeling of the game. Ryan resigned three days later at a press conference. I can’t help but wonder if this photograph, run five columns across the front of the sports section, had any influence on her decision to end a 34 year career with U.Va. I felt awful for Debbie watching as this historical U.Va. coach ended her career in tears.”
He covered the NCCA Virginia vs. Penn State game in 2011 when Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges missed a field goal that clinched UVA’s 17-16 win.
“As the rain started coming down, the guy kicked the field goal that would tie the game, the last play of the game. Penn missed. Hodges yelled ‘NOOOO!,’ a ‘NO, Stella!’ moment that just organically happened. I missed the final field goal, but got lucky standing in the right place at the right time for this shot. It’s a gut thing; I’m trying to find the one shot that articulates the entire game.”
Shurtleff might have missed the final field goal, but he caught the celebration as UVA tight end Jake McGee jumped for joy after a fourth quarter touchdown that led to victory over Penn State.
Shurtleff triggered the shot when Maryland’s goalie failed to deflect the ball in round one of the 2013 ACC Tournament against Virginia. UVA defeated Maryland 6-1.
Sitting on the sidelines, Shurtleff used a remote camera behind the goal to document Hoftra’s 7-0 loss to 14th ranked UVA’s soccer team. “UVA came around and tapped the ball in. This woman came running in out of nowhere to try and save it from going in the goal and crashed into the back of the net.” His fast action shot won Shurtleff a Pictures of the Year International award.
In 2010, UVA lost 11 to 0 to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Super Regionals, succeeding Oklahoma to the College World Series. “Half of the boys were crying. They still went out and waved and thanked their fans for being with them the whole time with tears coming down their faces,” says Shurtleff. “That’s the real deal. It’s just nice to see the kids being themselves.”
He also remembers UVA playing UC Irvine in the Super Regionals. “UVA in the bottom of the ninth hit the ball up the middle and they scored three runs and won the game 3-2. It was just this amazing moment of celebration, but at the same time, I looked over in the dugout and the boys from Southern California were sitting there stunned. Shocked. They’d just lost their chance to go to the College World Series. Some were crying. It was just raw emotion.
“I feel the pain they feel,” Shurtleff says. “Sometimes I’m crying behind my camera. I also feel an obligation to tell the story even if it’s painful for me.
“Sometimes too I get complaints: ‘Why would you run such a sad photo?’ My answer is I’m just showing you what happened. I didn’t create the photo, it created itself.”
Admittedly not a natural sports fan, Shurtleff has been an avid skateboarder for over 25 years. A native of Winter Park, Florida, he began shooting photos in high school, his photo of a tree in his front yard winning first place in a Rollins College art show. He continued photographing for his newspaper at Florida State University where he earned degrees in Economics and Business. He later shot for newspapers in Florida and North Carolina before moving to Charlottesville in 2000.
A photographer for The Charlotte Observer taped these words to his camera, ‘Show them what they didn’t see.’ “I took that to heart, so from that that day on, every time I’d go somewhere, I’d try to find that different angle, try and find something that you wouldn’t ordinarily see. I use wider angle lenses or longer lenses other than a 50 mm which is what the eye sees, just to give you a new perspective on the same old event,” says one of Charlottesville’s first professional photographers to use digital cameras.
Shurtleff’s fresh, animated photos have won him awards from the National Press Photographers Association as well as the Virginia, North Carolina and Florida News Photographers Association. His photos have appeared in The Associated Press, Newsweek, Time, People, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, L.A. Times, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, Slam Magazine, ESPN.com, Yahoo.com, Euro Yahoo, MSN.com. and the current issue of Vanity Fair.
He particularly praises the photographs of former National Geographic photographer Sam Abell. “I admire the fact that he can stay in a situation until it works in his favor. Abell shows great patience emerging himself in a moment. I’m still working on my patience,” says Shurtleff. He’s also now exploring infra photography especially as it relates to the Virginia countryside. “It’s fun and exciting, a new way of looking and seeing the same landscapes. I want to keep getting better going forward…”
Click to enlarge photos. To see more of Andrew Shurtleff’s work, visit andrewshurtleff.com.
–Elizabeth Howard, Art Editor
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