Clarkson on the first remote cameras

By June 30, 2014News

Remote cameras are seemingly everywhere today.  Everywhere for the most part where a person could not get, but sometimes for other reasons — such as a high risk location.

But the real innovative breakthrough came not so much with motorized cameras such as the Nikon SP and the early Nikon Fs, but with a highly portable battery pack invented, manufactured and sold by California photographers Larry Schiller and Jay Eyerman.  For those power packs holding penlight batteries made the whole camera compact enough to fit in many tight places.

Thus it was in 1957 that I mounted a camera looking through the glass backboard at a college basketball game.  At the Topeka Capital-Journal, we had two machinists whose job it was to keep the presses and Linotypes working, but were always eager to work on something different.  That was when I asked them to make a bracket to attach to the outer frame of the glass backboard.  They came up with a great bracket with three tightening bolts that bore small pins on the other side of the metal so there could be no slippage — the pins worked right into the backboard frame.

With a ball and socket head that was tightened with a wrench, I installed the rig on a backboard at Kansas State University — and then showed it to the two coaches for permission.  They could care less and I loaded the Nikon with a roll of film and waited for the tipoff.  At halftime, I climbed the stepladder to get the film and raced for the darkroom.  When I looked at the film,  the first frames shot before the game were fine — but as the roll progressed into the game, each subsequent picture was more and ,ore out of focus.  There was nothing that could be used.

That’s when I learned the vibrations were so extreme that the lens focus slipped with each bouncing ball.  For the second game, I learned to tape down the focusing mount so it couldn’t slip.  Then came lesson number two.

The reflection of the basket’s frame went right though the center of the picture.  Black masking tape applied to the one frame and bracket was lesson number two.

So two games later, I had my first picture through the backboard — and one of them was very spectacular.  I thought I was very cleaver.

Until later that same season, I saw another picture just like mine.  From Los Angeles where Life magazine photographer John G. Zimmerman had crafted a similar mounting— with very similar pictures.

In the years since, Zimmerman , myself and other photographers continued to mount cameras on the backboards, the standards and wherever else you could get a bracket out of the way. And as part of our 20-year contract with the NCAA, we have mounted the cameras for every Final Four since, pooling the pictures to everyone who wants them as the NCAA was willing for two cameras — but no more on the backboards.  It could look like a forrest of cameras — which you occasionally see at some arenas where there are no rules restricting the numbers.  Our four remote cameras are all hard-wired to the workroom where an Associated Press editor edits and passes the picture on to whoever is in the pool.

Prior to those days, I had never met Zimmerman — who was not only one of America’s pioneering and great sports photographer, but was the nicest person you would ever meet.  Along the way, we met and worked on assignments together for Life and Sports Illustrated many times.  When the 1980 OLympics came along in Montreal,  John Durniak (Time’s picture editor) assigned me to be the Time magazine photographer after I had done the Munich games for him four years earlier.  I did those as the only Time photographer and with all the news that broke there, I was stretched to say the least.  Olympic credentials were very hard to get then, but I was able to get a second credential for Montreal and Durniak said I could select anyone I wanted to share the assignment for Time.

I picked Zimmerman.

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