KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — What's art? What's "just a picture?" Do art lovers appreciate sports photography? Can football images in orange and white be called fine art?
Photographer Patrick Murphy-Racey leaves such dilemmas to the viewers of the 25 images in the exhibit of his work called "VOLS: A 25-Year Retrospective."
The Oct. 2-30 exhibit at the Emporium Center, 100 S. Gay St., is a first for Murphy-Racey, though it isn't his first photographic essay on the team. His 258-page 2002 book "Run Through the T: A Four-Year Photo Journey Inside Tennessee Vols Football" is a 130-photo chronicle of the team during part of Phillip Fulmer's time as coach. This season marks the former News Sentinel photographer's 27th shooting University of Tennessee football.
Some images in the VOLS exhibit blur those lines between art and journalism. Even the casual fan will recognize Peyton Manning's stare behind his helmet in one black-and-white image. Another close up, again in black and white, shows a player's hands clasped in prayer. Nearly every finger is taped; the player's face isn't seen. Murphy-Racey doesn't recall which player he photographed that day.
"It's perfect that I don't know," he says. "It's a universal image that happens before every football game."
Other photos are orange-and-white celebrations of UT football history. Volunteers run, jump and dive for yards, frozen in photos, against rivals like Alabama, LSU and Florida. A pensive Fulmer sits on a team bus in one photo; an exhausted Casey Clausen rests on a bench in another. Several images are views of the team locker room. And many photos, says Murphy-Racey, haven't previously been seen.
Murphy-Racey began photographing football after coming to the News Sentinel in 1989. He left the paper in 1992. His freelance photography work has included shooting for outlets that include Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Upper Deck and Time.
In 1998 Fulmer gave the photographer complete access to his team. Murphy-Racey traveled with the players and shot photos in the locker rooms and training rooms and before, during and after games. The work made the journalist part of the UT football family during that time.
But when he began shooting football he knew nothing about the sport. He graduated in 1988 from Marquette University, a college without a football team. "I really didn't understand the game," he says. So he studied, reading a "fifth-grade level" book from the public library.
Murphy-Racey's also documented decades of Lady Vols basketball and begun editing the photos for a book about that. "But the question right now in my heart and mind is, "Is this a Lady Vols book or a Pat Summitt book?'" he says.
In addition to telling the story of sport and art, "VOLS: A 25-Year Retrospective" documents the changes in photography over the years. Some images are the black-and-white Murphy-Racey loves. Others are from color slides, negative film and digital cameras. Selecting 25 photos from thousands was tough. "I probably looked at 10,000 pictures ... No one looks at more pictures than a sports photographer."