What an Olympian eats
By Umit Bektas
I have always wondered how athletes, who must exert incredible amounts of energy in whichever sports discipline they compete in, handle the issue of nutrition. As the London Olympics approached us, we Reuters photographers began to make our photo stories. I decided to create a photography project stemming from this curiosity of mine. I planned to interview some of the Turkish athletes preparing to compete in the Games and take pictures of what they ate. Sometimes you think a project that sounds good will also be easy to carry out and this is very exciting but when you actually become involved that euphoria is replaced by anxiety. This is exactly what happened to me.
The hardest part was to persuade the athletes to spare a few hours in the studio which meant taking a break from their exercise program. I wanted to take photos of six athletes but I was rejected by at least three times that number of other athletes. Some said they were training abroad, or in other cities. For others, their trainers rejected my request saying their charges would “lose their concentration”.
I had to get permission from the sports federation involved, then from the coaches or trainers of the athletes I wanted to photograph and finally from the athlete themselves.
I chose my six athletes and conducted interviews with them. I asked them how they solved the issue of nutrition and made a list of all that they ate during a day.
Field photographers like us are not involved much with studio photography so before the actual shoot, I asked a friend to act as a stand-in for the athletes and took some trial photos. If you are taking pictures for a cookery book, you can make all the digital photo adjustments you want later on your computer. As a field photographer I, of course, knew the rules of news photography I had to adhere to during post production therefore this step of running tests beforehand was important for me. It did indeed prove to be very useful and I believe the final results were all technically satisfactory.
For the test pictures I brought to the studio a table and some crockery which I thought would look nice. But on the day of the shoot, I realized that the most difficult thing was setting the table and arranging all the food on it. The first thing I did was to shop for the food on the list that each athlete had told me during the interview. For cooked dishes I had to visit several different restaurants. I bought soup from one, steak from another and rushed these to the studio. Then I set the table as best as I could. All but one of the six athletes were from outside Ankara and were not familiar with the city. So, I had to go to their hotels and bring them to the studio as well.
I must admit that I practiced a few small tricks to ensure that my pictures turned out well and the table looked nice. For example I put raw salmon in the dish on the table so its color would look brighter, on items of food that I thought looked too dull, I poured plenty of olive oil to make them glossier. I did not cook the pasta through but just put it in hot water. I had to scold the athletes not to pinch from the plates of appetizers so they would not look half-eaten in the photos. But some arrived hungry so I bought them pizzas.
After the shoot with the food I asked the athletes to pose in typical gestures or positions of their particular sports. This was easy and also fun.
The hardest part of the assignment was at the very end of the shoot. I packed up my cameras and put on an apron to wash the dishes. If I ever have to work on a similar project in the future, I will first make sure there is a dishwasher in the studio!