In this citadel of tennis, burly Art Seitz moves toward the net, his body rotating gracefully as he raises his arms and turns to make a shot, a half smile on his lips. He is in his element: U.S. Open tennis and action photography.
Seitz wheels and pulls up a long telephoto lens, spotting Mary Pierce stretching on a distant court. Click. Click. Then he turns back to the practice session at hand.
Handsome Nicholas Lapentti of Ecuador is stroking backhands. Watching him is a brunette in white pants and turquoise halter top. “Didn’t I photograph you in the Miss World contest in 1998?” Seitz asks with a twinkle. She bursts into a smile. Click. Click.
At 57, Seitz, a former University of Florida tennis letterman, is on top of his game. For 30 years, he’s traveled the world as a freelancer, logging more than 20,000 miles per annum, shooting thousands of players on and off the court and developing a reputation as one of the sport’s finest photographers.
How does he succeed? “I’m intuitive,” he says, “I notice things in people. The quality of the light, the patterns of things.”
Charm and Camaraderie
His triptych of Russian teenage phenomenon Anna Kournikova is an example: It captures a woman whose long blond hair flounces up in the sunlight, then plunges and angles downward in counterpoint to her movement in hitting a serve, then comes to rest as she walks ramrod straight, moving away from a point.
Three shots of Carlos Moya of Spain announce a dancer. Shirtless Andre Agassi reveals a furious forehand. And John McEnroe reaches out, his arms and legs headed in four directions.
Seitz is not modest about his talent (“I was one of only two photographers invited to Fred Perry’s memorial service,” he says of the British tennis player who died in 1995), but he’s gentle about his accomplishments.
“I get a lot of pleasure from the camaraderie, the characters” he says. “I’ve got lots of pictures that wind up on somebody’s icebox door. There are very few people in tennis I haven’t given pictures to.”
So they know him, smiling in his direction or shaking his hand as they enter the grounds of the National Tennis Center, intent on practice, practice, practice.
“I approached six players and didn’t get a single flat turndown,” he says proudly. In a sport where young egos are constantly stroked, this is an achievement.
In two days, he has managed to shoot 56 rolls of film, delivering them to a photo lab on the grounds of the Open, where they are processed for free. The manufacturer, Fujifilm, makes its money from sales of its 35mm product and earns goodwill from professional photographers for its no-charge processing service.
Each photo goes into Seitz’s mental Rolodex. The Lapentti shots will go to Latin America. Seitz services more than a dozen tennis magazines around the world. He reels off the names: Tennis Oggi (Italy), Smash Tennis (Switzerland), Tennis (Holland), Tennis Plus (Russia).
“I had 96 photos in one issue of Tennis Match,” he reports, citing the American magazine as one of his best customers.
Waiting for Williams Sisters
It’s noon on the day before the Open officially gets under way, and we are heading for the back gate. Seitz, carrying a clear plastic bag with 56 envelopes containing strips of film negatives, boards his van and takes off for Manhattan.