Wishes and Friends / by Bill Frakes


It's New Year's Eve day, 2013. The first firework photograph I saw today came from, where else? Sydney, Australia.

In 2000 at the end of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, I was frankly whipped.

Along with Dave Callow, my great Australian brother who selflessly devoted his time in Sydney to helping me make the best images I could possibly make, I had put in 25 straight 20 hour days. Exhausted from the stress, strain, physical and mental exertion, and last but not least the heat, we just wanted to get through the Closing Ceremony.

But then SI's picture editor Jimmy Colton asked me where I thought I would like to work that last night, and I knew I needed to do something special. Most of my colleagues wanted to be inside the Olympic Stadium, but after 10 days of track and field -- shooting every single heat of every race at every distance, I desperately needed a change. Not only that, I was more interested in the overall spectacle showing the closing of the Games in that magnificent city that had welcomed us so wonderfully.

There was no other place possible, we had to be looking on from Mrs. Macquaries Chair. A spectacular vantage point overlooking Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Legend has it, if you sit there at just the right time and make a wish, it will be granted.

I had brought 25 cases of gear to Australia. So many single lens reflex cameras. All kinds of lenses. And a trunk containing some very unique and special medium format cameras. Three of which were modified by Dave to give a different look. A look that no one else would produce at these Olympics.

Sports Illustrated ran the image above across a three page gatefold in the front of the magazine and maybe best of all the reverse side of the gatefold was an image by Heinz Kluetmeier. A former Director of Photography at the magazine, and the man who brought me to SI initially, Kluet is the best there's ever been at sports action photography. Starting with the first time I covered the Olympics for the magazine in 1992 in Barcelona, he had encouraged me to own the finish line at track, and that included figuring out ways to take Kluet's trademark images and make them even better -- something I couldn't have done without his brilliance and generous teaching.

Standing in the finish pit three days before Closing Ceremonies, Dave and I were suddenly struck with the realization that we had 60 Nikons, a slew of lenses, all kinds of specialty gear for finish line images and underwater shots... everything, but a panorama camera. We started frantically calling every resource we could think of from our position trackside. Nobody had anything available. Every big format and panoramic camera was already rented. And then from five feet to my left came the distinctive voice of Joe McNally.

"I have a couple with me. You can use them."

Stunned. Really Joe? "Of course, just pack them up when you're finished and leave them at the front desk of the hotel, I'll collect them when I get back from my assignment in the Outback."

Friends. My wish for great ones has been granted many times.

About 150,000 folks were on the hillside with us that night and when the fireworks erupted they broke into a mass a cappella version of the de facto Australian national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. I will never forget the moment. Just magic.