Sunday, August 06, 2000

Picturing tennis a ball

Masters Series tournament volunteer photographer
loves the long hours and amazing folks he meets

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A day in the life of Tom Guenther, house photographer for Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati (nee ATP):

        Into the office at 7 a.m. to shuffle papers and attend to the crisis du jour at Executive Benefits, the insurance firm where he's senior vice president.

[photo] Tom Guenther shows tools of his trade.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
        Off to Mason at 9:30 to spend the day armed with a Nikon, roaming tournament grounds, shooting candid shots of everything.

        Home to Mount Adams about 8:30 to collapse and do it all again tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after for 10 sweaty days every August.

        This is Mr. Guenther's 10th year as volunteer photographer, a job he took on when wife Gayle, a long-time volunteer, dragged him to a match.

        “I was bored. I couldn't sit there and just watch tennis all day. But I am a fan of people-watching. So I started following people and taking pictures. Later, I showed them to Gayle and she showed them to the ATP people.

        “They offered, I accepted and never regretted. I know there are better photographers in town who would love this job, but they can't work free for 10 days. So here I am.”

        Ten days, 10 years, by the numbers:

        He estimates he walks 15 miles a day, most of them around the party tents and the perimeter of the stadium, where he seems to know everyone.

        That's 1,500 miles on the hoof since 1991.

        He hoists up his Nikon and shoots 20 rolls, 36 exposures each, a day.

        That's 2,000 rolls or 72,000 pictures.

        Of what?

        “Everything. I shoot day matches, but I spend more time shooting in the food court, players signing autographs, players with sponsors' signage behind them, players meeting sponsors in party tents at night.

        “Candids are fun here because of the type of tournament this is — small enough to allow a lot of interaction between players and fans. Even Carl Lindner, I'm amazed at how visible he is. I mean, you see him standing in line for ice cream or a Coke right in a crush of people.”

       About 90 percent of Mr. Guenther's shots go to sponsors who throw parties in the long row of 10 gleaming white tents adjacent to the stadium. Each sponsor gets a bound book, “Your Day at the ATP” they call it, and each gets pictures of his event in the party tent.

        And there's 59-year-old Mr. Guenther, walking through it all. Shooting. And walking.

        Walking is the easy part. A former marathon runner — “slow; don't ask” — he's in training for the world's first walkers-only marathon, Nov. 19 in Bermuda.

        Not only in training, but training 50 other Cincinnati walkers, in yet another of his jobs, this as walking coach for the Leukemia Society's Team in Training.

        Hardly leaves him time to tap dance, 'eh?

        “Oh that. I took tap lessons on a lark, then did a 2-minute, 45-second recital. Longest two minutes of my life.”

        Hmmm. We need to ask him some questions.

        The most surprising sight in all these years at the tournament ...

        Ivan Lendl. He always seemed so arrogant and aloof. No time for anybody. One day late, most people were gone but there was one woman waiting outside for autographs. She had no arms, thalidomide, I learned later. I told Gayle, you have to get someone out here. She asked Lendl. He wouldn't come out, but he invited the woman in. Reached out and shook her foot — I get goosebumps remembering how he was so natural about it — and then talked to her for 15 minutes. I couldn't believe the warmth I saw in him.

        The most fun to shoot ...

        Women. Not just at the ATP, but in portraits, weddings. I think I do it well. They trust me.

        The least fun to shoot ...

        Trees. Nature. I used to do it and enjoy it. Now, I do people and enjoy that more.

        Sampras, Agassi, Chang, the common denominator among all of them ...

        I would say a great work ethic. As a young player coming up, you're not going anywhere without it. They dedicate themselves heart, soul and full-time to becoming a great player.

        When I need a break from the tournament, I ...

        Go way back in the hospitality tents and sit. They're empty in the day, it's shady and as quiet as things get up there.

        As soon as I find the time I'm going to ...

        Spend a month in France and Italy. Just me and Gayle, driving slowly anywhere we want.

        Here's what I'd tell someone who wants this job ...

        Be prepared to spend a lot of volunteer time out there. But I'd also tell them that working here has taken whatever photographic ability I have and sharpened it, and for that I'm forever in their debt. It's free on-the-job training.

        I wish you would have asked me ...

        About my plans for the future. But then, I don't really have anything big. I have the greatest life in the world. Why would I change it?


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