On Saturday night, as they do annually on the eve of shooting the Super Bowl, the staff photographers from Sports Illustrated gathered for a meal.
This year, the circumstances around that dinner were slightly different.
A little more than a week before, all six photographers had been laid off from their jobs at the magazine, a cut that becomes effective in March.
There was a little gallows humor around the two tables that the photographers, their assistants and others from the magazine shared at a Mexican joint in Scottsdale, Arizona, said Robert Beck, whose job was one of those cut in January.
For many years, the photographers discussed the possibility of being cut from the magazine as they saw colleagues at various news organizations dropping away from staff positions, said Al Tielemans, who also lost his job in the cuts.
“Instead of trying to figure out when we were going to be laid off, we were talking about what it was like to be laid off,” he said.
But when it was time to go to work the next day, neither Tielemans nor Beck were thrown off by the prospect of shooting their last Super Bowl on staff for Sports Illustrated, they said.
The Super Bowl is a tricky assignment because it has the pomp of an enormous media event wrapped around the demands of shooting a football game, Tielemans said. He tries to ignore the spectacle and shoot it like he would any other game — though he does shoot frames of celebrities and other interesting “peripheral stuff.”
“The minute you start changing because it’s the Super Bowl, that’s the moment you mess up,” he said.
From his vantage point on the New England Patriots sideline, Tielemans said he was able to snap a lot of quality pictures at the line of scrimmage. Because there weren’t many big plays that went for long yardage, a lot of the action took place within his area of responsibility.
Beck, who was shooting out of a corner in the endzone, says his view of Malcolm Butler’s climactic interception was obscured somewhat. As the game neared conclusion, members of stadium security began congregating in his corner, making it difficult to get a good angle.
“Our whole corner, a lot of people didn’t have certain pictures,” Beck said. “It just became madness.”
Tielemans also had difficulty in the final seconds. Forgetting that the Seahawks had one final timeout, he stepped onto the field to get post-game reaction shots before the final whistle and was escorted off the sideline by security.
Tielemans was soon back on the field for a post-game photo with his colleagues, which was taken by Donald Miralle, a freelancer who was shooting for Sports Illustrated. For Miralle, memorializing the last Super Bowl shot by the six staff photographers at the magazine was an honor.
“When I started doing photography about 20 years ago, those guys were my heroes,” he said. “To take a picture of them and be a part of it, it meant a lot.”
Although their future assignments are still unclear, both Tielemans and Beck are optimistic that they’ll see their fellow Sports Illustrated photographers on the field again. For Tielemans, the hype surrounding the Super Bowl and the changing photography industry are secondary to the assignments at hand.
“You just have to react to the game and make great pictures,” he said.