In the eyes of many young men, Temple native Walter Iooss had the perfect job – photographing the world’s top models for Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issues and capturing images of sports heroes at the Olympics, World Series and Super Bowls .
The son of a Fort Hood soldier, Iooss was born in 1943 at Scott & White Hospital. As a child, he loved sports and was drawn to sports photos.
“I would cut out magazine photos and stick them on my wall,” he said.
Iooss moved to New Jersey at the age of 5, and as a teenager he shot his first feature film.
“My dad bought tickets to a Giants football game one weekend,” Iooss said Thursday. “When he picked me up, he gave me a Pentax camera, a 300mm lens and one roll of film. Only one.”
One roll was all that was needed.
“After the game we developed the film,” Iooss said. “As soon as I hung the first picture up to dry, my future was unlocked. I knew what I wanted to do in life.”
From that moment on, Iooss photographed his entire world – friends, family, sports, street scenes… you name it.
“I started getting pretty good, so I made a portfolio,” he said “One day during my junior year in high school, I called Sports Illustrated and said I wanted a job.”
“When they found out how old I was, they laughed,” he said. “I think they invited me as a joke.”
But after viewing the portfolio, the joke was over.
“They gave me some assignments,” he said. “I didn’t have a driver’s license, so my dad took me to games.”
Iooss was just 19 years old when he shot his first cover for SI and his reputation as a photographer skyrocketed. Before long, he was also the top photographer for Atlantic Records, capturing photos of musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and James Brown.
One day, Iooss got a call from Jule Campbell, a fashion reporter hired to develop a swimsuit segment for Sports Illustrated. He jumped at the chance to travel and photograph beautiful women.
“She said, ‘I want you to shoot the swimsuit issue,'” Iooss said. “It grew from 8 pages to 44 and became a huge but insane monster.”
“I really couldn’t go wrong,” he said with a laugh. “I had amazing locations, beautiful models and the best makeup and hair stylists in the world. I shot about 25 issues.”
He truly put the “super” in many supermodel careers.
Iooss served as Sports Illustrated’s top photographer for six decades and his work graced more than 300 covers. He is known for his award-winning captures of athletes such as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Scottie Pippen and Kelly Slater.
While photos of women, pro athletes and rock stars made Iooss famous, it was his award-winning photos of children at play that still make him smile.
“I loved sports as a kid, and I love photographing young athletes,” he said. “I did a series about kids playing stickball in Cuba, and one about young kickboxers in Thailand. It’s very memorable.”
Today, Iooss makes many memories with his grandchildren, and he enjoys it.
“The work was very slow when the pandemic hit,” he said. “There wasn’t much going on in the sports world. I think I’ve gotten quite used to it. I have a lot of fun with the adults.”
Still, Iooss said he hasn’t ruled out a return to the sidelines.
“There’s something about shooting a big game,” he said. “When I put the camera in front of my eye, the world stops. It’s me and the game, and I’m patiently waiting to capture the perfect moment.”