“The photograph that really took my breath away,” said senior photo editor Julianne Varacchi, “was the one of Miesha [Tate] on the floor waiting for the tub to heat up during the night of her weight cutting. Such an intense, intimate moment that fans don’t ever get to see. I got a new appreciation for what fighters put their bodies through to compete after taking that one in.”
It’s exactly the type of moment ESPN director of photography, Digital and Print Tim Rasmussen, Varacchi and photo editor Jason Potterton are counting on when they embark on a visual storytelling journey of the size and scope of this week’s “Embattled” feature for ESPN.com.
“Over the past year we have been using this photo narrative style to tell unique sports stories that bring to life the people and places our fans can’t always see or be part of,” said Rasmussen, who joined ESPN from the Denver Post in April of last year. “Following an MMA fighter as they train and prepare for a huge fight was something both our photo team and the MMA editors have been wanting to do for a while, and everyone thought this was the right event to do it.”
– Tim Rasmussen, ESPN director of photography,
Digital and Print
With Tate involved in a title fight (which became the main event for UFC 200), the decision was made to approach Tate’s camp to gauge interest; ESPN.com UFC writer Brett Okamoto was able to “open the door for us,” Rasmussen said.
“Joe has a unique talent in which he’s both a photojournalist and a sports action shooter where each of his photos tell a story,” said Rasmussen, who worked with Amon at the Post, where he’s part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff. “Finding someone who has that balance, plus his warm, relaxed but professional personality is perfect for assignments that require close access to people. If there’s no trust between the subject and photographer, the story becomes nearly impossible to tell. Plus, he makes pictures that I never see anyone else make – he’s always looking and finding the right angle, framing and moment to tell a story. He really understands people and their relationships to each other, which comes through in his photographs.”
Amon first photographed Tate in a 24-hour span of time in Las Vegas two weeks before the fight.
“We wanted to have Joe and Miesha spend time together before UFC 200 not only to get an understanding of what her life is like outside of training and fighting, but also to establish a relationship in hopes Joe would get closer access when he was back for fight week,” Rasmussen said.
“Establishing access is key and luckily [Joe and Tate’s camp] had a great rapport,” Rasmussen said.
Soon after meeting, Amon was a fly on the wall, getting intimate shots of Tate applying for a home loan with her boyfriend, relaxing in a pop up spa in her backyard and eating dinner on her couch. To make the final edits a bit easier, Amon was constantly sending photos to Rasmussen and team throughout his time with Team Tate.
“We couldn’t have pulled [this package] off without the help and collaboration from Julianne, Jason, Brett, editors Andrew Feldman and Brian Campbell, Chris Marcucci and his team of copy editors,” Rasmussen said.