bill frakes – agony, ecstasy

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Bill Frakes

Agony, Ecstasy

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I am a photojournalist, a storyteller–the world’s greatest vicarious adolescent profession.

The crux of my exploration of athletic competition is the intersection of motion and emotion, the sometimes chance but more often calculated inclusion of art, commerce and athleticism into sport which so heavily influences the functioning of society through participation and observation. Capturing the penultimate moment which will hopefully enlighten and engage the viewer in a way that defines the game.

That said I really just want to make people smile.


Bill Frakes is a Sports Illustrated Staff Photographer based in Florida who has worked in more than 130 countries for a wide variety of editorial and advertising clients.
His advertising clients include Apple, Nike, Manfrotto, CocaCola, Champion, Isleworth, Stryker, IBM, Nikon, Canon, Kodak, and Reebok. He directs music videos and television ads.
Editorially his work has appeared in virtually every major general interest publication in the world. His still photographs and short documentary films have been featured on hundreds of Web sites as well as on most major television networks.
He won the coveted Newspaper Photographer of the Year award in the prestigious Pictures of the Year competition. He was a member of the Miami Herald staff that won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew. He was awarded the Gold Medal by World Press Photo. He has also been honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for reporting on the disadvantaged and by the Overseas Press club for distinguished foreign reporting. He has received hundreds of national and international awards for his work.
He has taught at the University of Miami, the University of Florida and the University of Kansas as an adjunct professor and lecturer. During the last five years he has lectured at more than 100 universities discussing multimedia and photojournalism.
In 2010 he served on the jury of World Press Photo.

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102 Responses to “bill frakes – agony, ecstasy”

  • @Charles – I wonder what David asked Bill Frakes to submit? Is the essay tag from Burn? Looking at Bill’s Web site there are a number of essays there, and as prolific as he clearly is, no doubt he has projects in progress. It looks to me like he was asked for a collection of some of his favorite images or something.

    The retrospective idea is terrific.

    Just the links to Bill’s Web sites made this worthwhile for me. There are hundreds and hundreds of images there as good, or — in my opinion even better than those featured.

  • DAH,

    Yes, portfolio.

    Yeah, when I talk to students I stress how long the process is and there’s rarely a quick pay off but years of struggle and even then no guarantees. I always hear an inaudible sigh when I tell them the fact that “Touch Me I’m Sick” is seventeen years worth of work.

    I remember one high school student who wanted me to tell him how he could get in to shoot the big stadium shows (I noticed he had a better camera over his shoulder than I owned at the time!). Well, I said that process can sometimes even be difficult for me, so you should start off small by building a portfolio and style from what you can get access to, which is typically smaller all ages shows, etc. And then start approaching managers, agencies, etc. No he said, that’s not what I envision my photos to be. He wanted to start at the top – he’d taken the pictures before he was even out the door. Good luck I said, I really can’t help you.


    why would you ask Charles what he thinks i asked Bill to submit? laughing…i am right here!

    i asked Bill to submit his favorites….he did…i did take a few out that were perhaps too too Americacentric…but essentially these are Bill’s picks of Bill…if he chose the wrong ones, you better ask him why…. :)

    cheers, david

  • I love these images, never heard of Bill before, great stuff.
    Regarding tech and the young and new it’s never been easy reaching ones goal but tech wise one cannot complain these days. Digital and all it’s advantages like speed in post processing and high iso do make life a little easier in sport photography. If one has doubts go and shoot a football match with film and many may appreciate technology and stop moaning. We may all have one good amazing image in our files but to go out under demand and consistently bring the goods back even when it turns into routine, a job and not an inspiring bit of fun it is to be applauded and that’s why people like Bill are up there.
    I heard yesterday Robert Frank still goes out everyday with his camera, now what could be more original than offering Robert Frank a Burn assignment. Of course he’d probably say no, but if he accepted it would be such a wow factor…anyway sorry just dreaming :)

  • nice mix! golfers had me laughing. the baketball one (27) is so cool.
    emerging or emerged who cares? hes an inspiration for those who emerge, have emerged or shall emerge.
    i like the mix, surprised me a few times. great editing! thanks

  • Glenn, Eva, David:

    I wasn’t aware Kouldelka was no longer working on the streets, although I have seen his relatively late panoramic work. And, except for Larry Towell’s work with the XPan, I really haven’t seen much in the way of panoramic street. I’ve been experimenting with this for about a month, and yesterday covered the Gay Pride festivities in Toronto:

    It’s not Koudelka, but it is “fresh” (as in…cooked Saturday).

    Count me in, too, as someone who’d love to see Koudelka here.

  • Well, didnt know who bill frakes is or koudelka. But i know panos and a guy who doesnt look anything like a frog but named after one. Sometimes in this world you might just have one fan, one who is more apt to inspire you to please them. One who is inspired by you to aspire greatness. Couldnt that be enough?

  • This one kind of made me feel like a shallow person. For some reason, I cannot view it in full screen mode. When I try from Safari, I get a blank, dark-gray, screen. When I try from Firefox, I get the full screen, the first image pops up and then, about two seconds later, the full screen crashes and I am back to standard view.

    The reason this kind of makes me feel shallow is because I really wanted to see the photos big and the one I wanted to see big the most was #5, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. So I thought I must just be another shallow male, never able to leave adolescence behind no matter how old I grow and no matter how much I love my wife.

    Since I couldn’t see any of the pictures big, I took another view of the series at standard size – and then realized there was another picture I wanted to see big even more than I wanted to see the cheerleaders. It was # 9, the one of the fish. I felt much better after that, not shallow at all, because fish go deep, and it takes a deep man to truly appreciate a good fish photo.

    As to the quality of the photos, it is the work of Bill Frakes, so it goes without saying..

    As to the debate of Burn space being occasionally devoted to the iconic photographer vs. the emerging, it appears to me to have been pretty well-hashed out. I go with having a mix. If it is running 10 to one in favor of the emerging photographer, well, hell – point me in the direction of even one other top-ranked publication, online or paper, that consistently features high-quality photography that even comes close to matching that ratio on behalf of the emerging.

    You can’t do it. There is no other. Only Burn.

    Also, while I enjoy the work of the emerging photographers, it is not that fact alone that keeps drawing me back. It is because this is a sight that features consistently high-quality photography, well presented and displayed. It inspires me. It motivates me, whether the photographer is emerging or iconic.

  • IMANTSAttacking regular posters only shows up your own inadequacies herve

    1)So what?
    2)As if you cared… :-)))

  • Bill images are outstanding. Really enjoy the serie. Powerful!

    Below a sport video of another great photographer (he has emerged long time ago… but inspire me a lot to emerge myself) :-)

    Hope to see him someday here, in burn, as Bruce G. and James N. did it once.

    Ok, sunday’s gone.

    PS @ PANOS: Doing the same as you, watching Copa America.
    Argentina is the home team and we only got an awful 1-1 against Bolivia… from now on, I think I will support some Major League Soccer team.

  • U made me smile :@ Gracie and Bill!!!

  • @Patricio:
    Yes, Venezuela great defense but BRAZIL: ICONIC!!!
    Go MESSI/ ARGENTINA !!! And also go BRAZIL..
    btw.. Women Soccer world cup..
    I loved the Brazilian MARTA and FABIANA…
    go Brazil ladies! U da Best!

  • Jealousy (unfortunately) seems to be part and parcel of every human endeavour; especially where “success” is concerned.

    So what if you haven’t got the latest and greatest equipment; can’t afford to travel etc; Use what resources you do have, and make them work. The old “necessity is the mother of invention” can be a real asset! The “woulda, coulda, if only” mentality will never work. Bring on more of the icons I say… :-)

  • Herve, I guess Ben can learn from your attitude and take up your mantle when dealing with editors etc and post in the same vein as your posting ………
    ” 1)So what?
    2)As if you cared… :-)))”

    Man I would love to be next to you in a lifeboat especially when I drop my guard then they will be able to call me fish bait

  • Just catching up on this thread after an afternoon of interesting light, I notice some took my use of the word “genre” as a negative. I didn’t mean it that way. Pretty much everything falls into some kind of genre or other and any particular piece of genre work can be excellent, even great. But I think more often the great work manages to transcend the genre. To give my most recent relevant example, I was thumbing through framed prints for sale at a New York museum gift shop last weekend and came upon a piece by Charles. My first thought was, wow, that’s a great photo; then I realized it was a rock and roll pic, a genre for which I have little interest. For me, that is a perfect example of a photograph transcending its genre. Then of course I realized it was the work of someone I virtually know. That was kind of cool. But the point is, Charles’s photo isn’t limited by its genre. It speaks on a universal level.

  • MW,
    i totally AGREE..
    if u r talking about CHARLES PETERSON , Yes..!
    Charles is a Master with capital M!

  • This is a great collection of images. I especially like the Davis Tournament photo (09) and the Harness Racing photo (12). Frakes has such a wide range of images, and he often seems to capture humorous or sentimental little moments at the big events he covers too. The joy for photography really comes across.

  • Jeez I just can’t go away without missing something. Been away for the weekend off grid.
    Amazing photography. And I hate pro sports.

  • DAH
    We had Kalvar? *runs to check archives* I missed that. He is good. Still give nods towards showing Paul Trevor and/or Tom Wood, neither of whom have anything at all hardly online these days but do have serious quality work. Richard I am fond of, on many levels. A unique eye, and a total good egg.

    I am not sure how “many” were critical or even how “many” were both young emerging photogs and critical. Go back and read through. There weren’t too many at all. As a young and not even emerging yet photographer, I certainly wasn’t critical of this essay, just one image which when viewed on my iphone did nothing for me. But I said they were generally great photos. No? But, I do get your point. Still, I do wonder how much of your point was positioning for yourself. Very convenient of you to line up a row of straw dogs off the back of one commentator who thought this series questionable.

  • Oi I ain’t no straw dog……… I am a straw hound big difference there !!!!!!!!!!

  • I’m an almost-fish-killer, I can call people straw dogs whenever I wish.

    (This evening is possibly the most absurd I have ever been either online or in person. Certainly online.)

  • Farmers intent sorta like a straw cow?

  • Maybe I shall change my ways and become a scientific research dog

  • I’m certainly more a straw cow than sacred one, Imants. ;-)

  • And Imants, if you must be Pavlov’s dog, can I at least be Schrodinger’s cat?

  • Trying to read the jazz chart for Mingus’ Goodbye Porkpie Hat at 5.46am is like trying to hold down a coherent conversation about astrophysics and not being Stephen Hawking.

    I digress. In every sense.

  • Gracie – I would like to meet this friend of yours who is named after a frog. For a moment, I thought it might be me, but then I remembered – I really am a frog.

    I’m also a duck – a duck in human disguise – which can get kind of confusing, sometimes, because some ducks eat frogs – and I would never eat myself.

    But then… I eat duck stew, too.

    I must bow out now. I can’t deal with all the inner conflict.

  • Duck dog!the cat’s eaten the frog’n duck stew……. laughing my tits off

  • JEFF…

    nr. 6 and 10! Always been fond of the pano format, played with it a bit, planning of doing more this summer.. one of my favourite pano shooters is Jens Olof Lasthein, have his ‘White Sea Black Sea’ book..

  • Jeff and Eva

    The panoramic format in Australia is so loaded with expectations and over use that it has become pretty trite and common place with more than a few photographers, some very famous, running around producing picture postcard books of the wide, brown land that the image that people get of this country is through a stretched out postcard – why I despaired till JK’s work in Eastern Europe turned me back to landscapes with varying degrees of success




  • GLENN…

    the last one of the second link is my fav.. but had only a quick look, am out of the house, will go back and look when back home at the end of the week..

    I think there’s an overuse of all formats/styles/themes/cameras/whatever that goes in circles, but I also think that the quality work will stay.. perhaps not for the mass, but appealing to everyone and everybody isn’t really it anyway, no?

  • Maybe I shall change my ways and become a scientific research dog
    good one!..i swear i do have a friend that is now turned into , if not a scientific research dog, a guinea pig at least…!;)
    good light ALL

  • MW,

    Yes you nailed it on the proverbial head. One of my prouder moments was a few years back at my Chrysler museum show in Norfolk. One day while I was there one of the older (late 70’s?) women of the board told me that she knew nothing about rock and roll but absolutely loved my photographs. She felt that she now knew what the experience was like.

    So universality is important. Another example was when I was in a group music photography show in Cuba. I didn’t attend but was told by the organizer that while the attendees passed over many of the portraits with merely a glimpse (such as the moody Ockenfel’s Cobain RS cover), crowds hovered around my image of a roiling daytime festival mosh pit. They couldn’t get enough of it, this glimpse into another world experience that most had never had but I’m sure most longed for.


  • It’s always excitinng to look at a great set of photographs by Bill Frakes. I would think that with his schedule and time constrains he wouldn’t need to do this. But knowing him, he has been helping out “emerging” photographers for a long, long time. Although Burn has huge credibility already, simply with David Alan Harvey’s name on it, when photographers like Frakes, Gilden, Anderson start appearing on it’s pages more and more editors, photographers and art directors will start making Burn one of their first stops of the day. Of course what that means is more and more “emerging” photographers will start getting noticed as well.

    I would have loved for a vehicle like this to have been around when I was an emerging photographer. If you have a great set of images, I am sure DAH will have no problem publishing them. What is also missed is the sports images of Bill’s are not just sports action images. They are the result of a journalist who happens to shoot sports and tells a story on the sport he is covering. (Love that photo of Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, praying by her bed.) That’s a huge reason why he gets the work he does, it’s not just standing on the sidelines with a long lens. And to me that’s what Burn is all about, great photojournalism, no matter who creates it.

  • A real pleasure to see this work! Bill captures life and motion in a nanosecond. I’d like to know how much of this is massive preparation and how much is just incredibly fast reflexes and knowledge of the subject matter

  • Thank you Harvey, Thank you Frakes, Thank you Civi,

    Oh my, you’ve opened a great well of documentary work David.
    There are 1083 entries in POY(I) for Bill’s contributions to
    meaningful photographic work.

    Showing Frakes work is THE message. Now, dig up George Wedding, Bruce Bisbing,
    Gordon Baer, Bill Ballenburg, Michael Bryant, Barry Wong, Harry Benson and
    this guy

    Documentary work at it’s best. Happy Independence Day!

  • I’m loving the mix. The “icons” and the emergents. Keep ’em coming, DAH.


    AKAKY IRL: It’s because they hate you.

    AKAKY: No they don’t. You’re being silly.

    AKAKY IRL: Dude, I am never silly. Ever.

    AKAKY: True enough, I guess. You always were a regular hard ass.

    AKAKY IRL: Thank you. I try. And they do hate you. Otherwise they would have told you, right?

    AKAKY: I suppose so.

    AKAKY IRL: There’s no supposing involved, bubba. They hate you.

    AKAKY: But why would they hate me? I’ve done nothing to any of them, I think.

    AKAKY IRL: Maybe they’re relatives.

    AKAKY: Hardly likely.

    AKAKY IRL: You never know, guy, not with the crew of cretins you’re related to.

    AKAKY: Still not very likely.

    AKAKY IRL: Or maybe they’re Democrats.

    AKAKY: I hadn’t thought of that.

    AKAKY IRL: Think of it, guy. It’s a definite possibility. Democrats don’t like to be told that the only way they’re getting your flush toilet is by prying it off your dead backside. They like to ease their way into things, like the way they’re replacing regular light bulbs with those annoying dim green thingees. I think it’s time for you started your own lobbying group, dude, something like the National Rifle Association, only with toilets. Modern plumbing is a right worth defending, like thirty minute pizza delivery or free Internet porn. It’s something to look into.

    AKAKY: Internet porn? I don’t think so, pal; that’s a quick way to lose my job.

    AKAKY IRL: You really are pathetic, aren’t you? Your friends should hate you. You’re eminently hateable.

    AKAKY: Thanks. I’ll say something nice about you some day.

    AKAKY: Don’t bother, bubba. I’d probably wind up hating myself.

    [To Bill Frakes: my apologies for the above. I am casting my discontent far and wide on this one. Liked your essay, though, especially the steer wrestler and The Boss as Napoleon. The latter basically sums up what all Yankees fans thought of him.]

  • I love you, Mr Bashmachkin!

  • im down with Akaky IRL though ;)

  • ..ithink (sounds like an apple product, right?)… anyway,
    i think that IRL is the only one in this forum that dares to tell Akaky the truth or “tell it like it is” style..;)

  • I love the images! It’s great to see top-notch work like this from a veteran shooter like Bill…the series conveys a wide gamut of emotions, and Bill’s ability to capture them in such powerful images is inspiring. I especially liked images 11(field goal), 21(100M strip cam), and 26(swimmer). The usage of light and color bring me right into the frame!

  • Charles, I think the pic I saw may have been the mosh pit of which you write. I took a snapshot. You can see it here.

  • DAH, alimrick:

    The question is luck, preparation or reflexes?

    All but one of the images in this portfolio were done on assignment for one publication or another. That changes some of the rules. It means that the images had to be taken on deadline, in the place the event was happening and the time it was scheduled to happen — no feeling the muse, grabbing the camera, and rolling out to take images when I felt inspired. Every movement has to be calculated from the moment I get an assignment to the second I transmit the images.

    It also means that in most of the circumstances I had to be responsible for telling a specific story. That doesn’t mean I have no creative freedom, but for the most part it is straightforward reportage.

    When I am doing this type of work it is generally under controlled circumstances, and by that I mean that there are places I can go and places I can’t. Sometimes I can add light, more often I can’t. And I am just fine with all of that because that’s my job. If it means I have to use a 600mm lens because that’s the only way to reach the action, even when I would rather use something shorter, then that’s how it is. Access is determined by the people hosting the competition, and I have to work with what they offer.

    I do like to work with long lenses, but many times that is the only way I can work. I have access to every piece of equipment I need but that hasn’t always been the case. When I was a young photographer in Miami I sold my car to buy a 300mm f/2.8 so I could take better pictures. I have always been a strong believer in investing in my future, no matter what the initial cost. It has always paid off.

    When I am trusted with an assignment there can be no excuses. I have to deliver every time. Often the events I am photographing have already been seen on TV more than once — i.e., NFL games are on Sunday, but Sports Illustrated publishes on Tuesday. So I have to figure out a different way to do it, with the restrictions I have, and I only have one chance to do it — there are no do overs. There is no instant replay like on TV and in most of my portraits I only have a subject for 10 minutes or less.

    So, luck is very helpful. So are quick reflexes. But the key is preparation. I prepare myself to be in the best place I can, with the best equipment I can find for the situation — and then I let it unfold and capture the action the best way I can, paying attention to detail, substance, nuance and context all while interpreting quickly moving chaos spinning in front of me.

  • BILL

    we could have used that as your primary text..many thanks for explaining your process and your priorities to the audience here…and a super thanks for just stopping in…come see me…

    cheers, david

  • Thanks for inviting me.

    It’s always a pleasure.


  • Great post this morning!
    It makes me like these photographs even more. Thanks for sharing!

    Incredible reading this:

    “When I was a young photographer in Miami I sold my car to buy a 300mm f/2.8 so I could take better pictures. I have always been a strong believer in investing in my future, no matter what the initial cost. It has always paid off.”

    That’s having your goal/vision imbedded in your head…..really knowing what you want is what I mean.

  • Bill is 21 a pan or something else? it bugging me.

  • Harry

    It was done with a slit camera.

  • Got nothing to add, folks; I just wanted to be #100. I am easily amused.

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