Gerry Cranham has just turned 92 and there has never been a book that looks back on his extensive and prolific career as a whole. Crazy! Mark Leech, a great English sports photographer, who is also his friend, his agent and sort of his spiritual son, is determined to right this wrong. He has decided to use all of his agency’s lifeblood to produce just such a book, which will be titled The Sporting Life, and to find funding assistance through a Kickstarter campaign that has already started.
But first, a word about Gerry Cranham. After five years in the military and a respectable career in track and field (middle-distance), the Hampshire (southern England) native became a coach, during which time he began using photography, his other passion, for his work as a trainer. The images he took of his athletes were used to correct a position or analyze a stride. A little later, he took his destiny into his own hands and decided that what was a means would become an end. He began doing photography full-time while sticking with his favorite theme, and he published his first photo in 1957, at the age of 28.
He quickly became one of the spearheads of English and international sports photography. He started doing color photography very early on, paid attention to composition and worked on his framing, and his success began to grow. Many of the biggest newspapers and magazines called on him: The Observer, Sports Illustrated, Time, The Evening Standard, and others. He became the leader of the new wave. Gerry is retired today, but he remains a trailblazer who made a mark on his era. He mapped out a new path by adding a human and social context to the simple narrative of sporting events. Gerry tells the viewers about the sport but he also tells us about England (often) or all the different places his profession has taken him. He took an interest in all sports before ending his career with a focus on horse racing, breeding, and anything related to the equine world, another of his great passions.
Here is Gerry Cranham in ten images
In 1963, boxer Mohamed Ali, who was still Cassius Clay, came to train in London before his match against Henry Cooper there. This famous photograph, which will also be the one on the cover of the book, and which was taken from a photo spread that had led Gerry, drawn as he was by the reputation of the young boxer, into the training room. In this photo is a champion who has already figured everything out, who knows how to seduce the camera and who is fully aware that images are what remain and that it is also photography that will help build his legend.
Golf player Arnold Palmer competes in the British Open at the Royal Golf Club in Liverpool. The year is 1967 and Arnold is the world’s number one rock star of golf. Here, the Arny Army presses around him in and follows him hole to hole throughout the course: a photograph that captures the authentic passion of the English for golf.
January 1964, 3rd round of the FA Cup, between football clubs Tottenham Hotspurs and Chelsea, at White Hart Lane, the home of the Spurs in London. The Spurs’ goalie, John Hollowbread, “hops” up and down to try and keep warm as the game unfolds across the field. A powerful and mysterious image. In the 1970s, the Victoria & Albert Museum devoted an exhibition to Gerry Cranham. This is the print they then chose for their permanent collection.
The Six Days of Antwerp, 1962. The popular “six days” event of the 1960s was a series of track cycling races that took place in velodromes. The idea was that the riders were in teams of two and that there was always one of them on the track… for six days and six nights straight. In the middle of the track, there was a gourmet restaurant and the dinner parties that took place there were true social events.
Glasgow, June 26, 1964. Scottish swimmer Bobby McGregor trains for the Tokyo Olympics, where he would go on to take the silver in the 100m freestyle. The Glasgow pool where Bobby trained was a 25-meter pool. There was no Olympics-size pool in Scotland. This help give him a particular gift for doing turns, where he made significant time differences. Gerry, reporting on this British swimming prospect, wanted to show that.
February 5, 1977, Parc des Princes, France versus Wales: the first victory for the Jacques Fouroux rugby team, which went on to achieve the second grand slam in the history of French rugby (the first since 1968), most notably with the same fifteen players playing all four matches, without any substitute players. Here, JPR Williams from Wales is being tackled by Jean-Pierre Rives.
Tennis player Bjorn Borg at the 1977 Wimbledon Championships. Gerry used what was a very fashionable look at the time, a kind of fisheye lens to provide this effect.
Athlete John Aki Bua on his training route in Uganda in 1972. A few months before the Olympic Games in Munich, Gerry had competed against the big favorite in the 400m hurdles event. He went on to win the event by breaking the world record and bringing home the first gold medal in the history of his country.
Actor Steve McQueen on the set of Day of a Champion, a John Sturges film (left of Steve McQueen in the image) that was never completed, in which he played a Formula 1 driver and for which Stirling Moss, the legendary English Formula 1, served as special consultant.
The vibe on the Brands Hatch circuit during the 1970 Formula 1 British Grand Prize, won by Jochen Rindt, onboard a Lotus-Ford Cosworth, in 1 hour 57 minutes and 2 seconds.
By Jean-Denis Walter
Jean-Denis Walter is a journalist, former director of photography and editor-in-chief of L’Equipe Magazine. He now runs the Jean-Denis Walter Gallery.