DECEMBER 28: The kid gets the picture

New York Giants vs Baltimore Colts, 1958 NFL ChampionshipTHE GREATEST IMAGE from the “The Greatest Game Ever Played” wouldn’t have been half so good if the photographer, sixteen-year-old Neil Leifer, “had any money and any decent equipment.”

That’s what Leifer concluded 46 years after photographing Baltimore’s Alan Ameche scoring the winning overtime touchdown in the NFL championship game against the New York Giants. On the evening of December 28, 1958, Leifer snapped a wide shot that caught the Colts fullback bowling into the end zone in the bottom half of the frame with a large swath of Yankee Stadium and a darkening sky above.

Leifer said in 2002 that with more experience and top-flight equipment he “would have tried to fill the frame with Ameche going in for the winning touchdown.” The photographer said his shot, which he quickly sold to Sports Illustrated, was “so much better than any picture I would have taken years later when I was an established pro.”

Today, a teenage photographer with no credentials would never get close to the action of a conference championship or Super Bowl Game, but security officials at the Colts-Giants game had other issues to deal with. “There were so many Colts fans (mainly drunken Colts fans) on the field that the security had their hands full just making sure that they could keep those people off the field,” said Leifer, who had been shooting Giants home games all year. “So I ended up exactly ten yards in front of Ameche as he scored the winning touchdown. He came right at me and I got that picture.”

Leifer's most celebrated adult photograph: Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965.

Leifer’s most celebrated adult photograph: Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965.

Many have called the 1958 championship game “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The 23-17 Colts victory marked the first use of the NFL’s sudden-death overtime rule, and the game is credited with sparking an enthusiasm for professional football that helped the NFL overtake baseball as America’s favorite sport.

A much-admired sports photographer, Leifer is most noted for his boxing images, which include dozens featuring Muhammad Ali. He was a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated from 1972 to 1978 and later worked for TIME and LIFE.

Picture-perfect teenagers

Otero.wideAbove: photos from fifteen-year-old Cristina Otero, 2011.

WORKING WITH NEWSPAPER photographers for 23 years (1983 to 2006) as a reporter, editor, and designer made me appreciate exceptional pictures and the people who take them. Although I know nothing about shooting myself (I’m helpless with a camera), I know that great photographers have great instincts, and some are very good at a very young age.

Here are some of the finest (and in some cases, luckiest) teenage shooters ever:

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1. Johan Van der Keuken, a seventeen-year-old Dutch photographer, published his first photo book, We Are 17, in 1955.

New York Giants vs Baltimore Colts, 1958 NFL Championship2. Neil Leifer, fifteen, captured Baltimore’s Alan Ameche scoring a sudden-death overtime touchdown in the NFL championship game (above) against the New York Giants on December 28, 1958. Leifer told Larry Berman and Chris Maher in 2002 that with more experience and top-flight equipment, he “would have tried to fill the frame with Ameche going in for the winning touchdown.” He said this shot, which he sold to Sports Illustrated, was “so much better than any picture I would have taken years later when I was an established pro.”

salas13. Roberto Salas, eighteen, and his father flew to Cuba in 1959 to photograph Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. The picture above “has a strange atmosphere because it’s a time exposure, two or three seconds,” Salas told The New York Times. “The whole illumination is from the match when Fidel lit the cigar.” That is Che Guevara to the right of Castro.

1512582-L4. John Shearer, seventeen, photographed John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket for Look magazine on November 25, 1963. Stan Stearns of United Press International shot a similar image from a slightly different angle. Shearer was told to “take as many pictures as you can of people grieving,” and said he moved around, “shooting over the shoulders or under the legs of other photographers,” until he found a spot with a clear view of the Kennedy family near the coffin at the Arlington National Cemetery. Jacqueline Kennedy whispered something into John Jr.’s ear, and the little boy, who’d just turned three, crisply saluted the coffin. “I had my picture,” Shearer said, adding that “luck – and the fearlessness of youth – were on my side that day.”

o-BEATLES-9005. Mike Mitchell, eighteen, took a series of portraits of the Beatles, who were playing at the Washington, D.C., Coliseum, on February 11, 1964. Forty-six years later, he sold the photographs at auction for $361,938.

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6. Ed Caraeff, seventeen, photographed Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. This is one of the most iconic images in rock and roll.

V8-RFK-Ambassador_LF7. David Hume Kennerly, nineteen, took some of the last living photographs of Robert Kennedy in June of 1968.

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8. Dan Garson, seventeen, photographed the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in August of 1969.

1239296074_francesca-woodman-from-polka-dots-providence-rhode-island-1976-p025_web_2-jpg9. Francesca Woodman, eighteen, photographed herself crouching in a polka-dot dress in November of 1976. Her black and white photography received critical acclaim after her suicide at age twenty-two.

the-hider10. Cristina Otero, fifteen, had a gallery of her portraits displayed in the Kir Royal Gallery in Valencia, Spain, from October of 2011 till January of 2012.

DECEMBER 28

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DECEMBER 28

FIFTY-FIVE YEARS AGO today, Neil Leifer spent more than three hours of his sixteenth birthday in New York’s Yankee Stadium, photographing the NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. His picture of Baltimore’s Alan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown in sudden-death overtime is considered the greatest image from what has been called “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Leifer’s photo, which he sold to Sports Illustrated, wouldn’t have been half so good if he “had any money and any decent equipment,” he said. Standing ten yards from Ameche, the young photographer snapped a wide shot that caught the Colts fullback bowling into the end zone in the bottom half of the frame with a large swath of Yankee Stadium and a darkening sky above. Leifer later said that with more experience and top-flight equipment he “would have tried to fill the frame with Ameche going in for the winning touchdown.” Turns out, his limitations were his greatest gift. He said his shot was “so much better than any picture I would have taken years later when I was an established pro.”

 
Today, a teenage photographer with no credentials would never get close to the action of a conference championship or Super Bowl game, but security officials at the Colts-Giants game had other issues to deal with. “There were so many Colts fans, (mainly drunken Colts fans) on the field that the security had their hands full just making sure that they could keep those people off the field,” said Leifer, who had been shooting Giants home games all year. “So I ended up exactly ten yards in front of Ameche as he scored the winning touchdown. He came right at me and I got that picture.”