I first began photographing sports when I was about 17. Completely intoxicated with the idea of living the life of a sports photographer after having sold my first "action" photo to the Associated Press for $25.00 (a shot of tennis clown Ilie Nastase kicking his Tennis racket at the old Forest Hills Tennis Stadium), I had convinced the AP to use me as a stringer that summer at Wimbledon. What a disaster.
I arrived , quaking in my boots, a green kid of 17 at the Fleet Street offices of the AP only to stand humble and terrified before the assignment editor, an imposing, cockney-accented newsman named Johnny Johnson. I meekly held out my letter of introduction, stammered a sentence or two about my being sent by New York to help cover the tennis, at which point he brusquely ripped the paper from my hands, crumpled it into a ball and told me he knew both who I was and where I had come from and that if he had any need for help in covering London's premier sporting event, it would certainly not come from a teenage American boy. With that I was shown to the door, the sound of laughing and sneering ringing in my ears as I trudged to the exit.
I think I was more afraid of going home and facing humiliation from friends and family, who had all seen me off on my adventure than I was of offending the editor any further, so I devised a plan. There was a pre Wimbledon tournament at a local club called Queens Club at which all of the stars were tuning up for the main event. I talked my way into the tournament, secured a photographers credential and each day would cover the matches. My budget was tight, so each morning I'd be found at courstide, bulk-loading Tri-X for the day. Each afternoon, I'd call Johnny at the AP and offer my film and each day the response was the same. Not interested. This went on for a week. On Sunday, John McEnroe played Tony Roche in the final and in the course of the match, McEnroe made a desperate lunge for a ball, both feet off the ground. Again, I called the AP and was given a by now familiar response. I then called the Manchester Guardian.
I was quickly put through to a friendly sports editor who invited me to come in with my film. They published the picture of McEnroe four columns wide on the front page of their sports section and when I called the AP the next morning to inquire about the possibility of a credential for Wimbledon, I was told "uhhh, we saw your picture in the Guardian. why don't you come by this morning and we'll talk about Wimbledon."
It was my first real break.
- Adam Stoltman