Whether it’s Usain Bolt flashing a smile during a historical 100m or Michael Phelps reaching out for the finish line in the 2008 Beijing Olympics; sports photography is more often than not associated with a wider story. This might be an instance of heartbreaking defeat or a triumphant moment of victory. Either way, images of sports games are usually viewed as part of their context. In his recent project Cruiser, photographer Pat O’Malley challenges us to rethink this conception as he fights the case for sports photography as an artistic object in its own right.
Pat is a Brooklyn-based freelance artist who has spent the past few years perfecting his clean and precise photographic style. “I first got interested in photography through journalism classes in high school. I began covering events, taking pictures and writing for the school newspaper,” Pat tells It’s Nice That. “I remember being so excited the first time I saw my photographs printed and shared with the whole school. I’m not really a writer so it was powerful to realise that I could communicate a story or an idea through photos.” In Cruiser’s case, the “story” is to prompt readers to reconsider the value of sports photography. Through a series of sharp, satisfying images of jet-skiers and bungee-jumpers, Pat shines a light on the aesthetic — and at times humorous — potential that lies within these action-packed shots.
“The project is essentially my attempt to fuse ‘action-sports photography’ and ‘travel photography’," explains Pat. "I wanted to abstract both of these highly specific modes of image-making in order to create a new dialogue or way of looking at them. These types of images aren’t usually considered in a slower, art context.” Cruiser does this by taking the reader on a journey through a non-specific tropical location. Pat likens the series to a a family holiday with an extreme sports dimension. The project, which took shape in 2016 and 2017, allowed Pat to travel all over the world; from Dubai to China to Southern California. The result is a number of carefully considered compositions, which would look more at home on the walls of a gallery than in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
Beyond a mere means of communication, photography has also allowed Pat to find his place in the creative world. “It’s much easier to be a photographer now than it has ever been with the rise of smartphones. It sounds cliché, but photography has been an incredibly healthy way for me to navigate through life and the world. It has allowed me to meet so many people and travel. I think it’s great that so many more people are able to experience that in today’s world.”