Of all the publications that have come and gone over the years, my favorite is still the now-defunct weekly news magazine Life, which ceased publication in 1972.
I loved Life because it published grand stories told through the photographs of the era’s preeminent photographers. There were words, too, but it was the photographs that made the magazine dominate for almost 40 years.
The photo story in today’s Olympian by our own Tony Overman reminds me of those wonderful Life magazine layouts.
Overman spent two years following Eloy Perez, the young boxer from Rainier, who next month will fight to become the World Boxing Organization super featherweight champion. Overman’s pictures do more than just illustrate his text. They take us behind the scenes on the journey of a gifted young Mexican American, who once said he would become “champion within a year.”
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Our photojournalist and Perez first met in 2006 when The Olympian did a story about the Rainier High School senior, who had gone 55-11 as an amateur, and, at age 19, had just turned professional.
The two stayed in touch. When Perez earned the high honor in 2009 of being chosen as boxer Shane Mosley’s sparring partner for his May 2010 nontitle super-fight with Floyd Mayweather, Overman started taking Perez’s prediction seriously.
Over the last two-plus years, Overman has recorded somewhere around 5,000 images of Perez in action and at home in Rainier and now Salinas, Calif. Overman has taken vacation time and spent his own money to drive to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco to photograph Perez from ringside.
It’s the longest Overman has ever worked on a story in his 31-year career – 15 years at The Olympian.
I asked what inspired him to stay devoted to this story for so long. He said Perez is the most likable person he’s ever met, a guy who makes everyone around him feel good. And ordinary people don’t make such bold predictions, and then fulfill them. Overman thinks Perez’s shot at the WBO title is the greatest sports accomplishment he’s ever covered.
“With photojournalism, you can’t go back in time to take a picture,” Overman said. “I realized Eloy was special and I didn’t want to lose touch with it.
“I wanted to show people what Eloy’s life has been like on the road to this title fight,” he said.
Overman says documentary photography is what everyone would like to do. It takes readers behind the scenes to places ordinary citizens can’t go, and shows them what it’s like.
It hasn’t always been easy. Overman has struggled to obtain press credentials and for access to Perez from ringside and inside locker rooms, more so as the fighter became known as a contender.
But the friendship they built over the years usually paid off. At one Vegas fight, Overman had worked his way down to ringside. When the bell rang to end the second round, and as Perez went to his corner, he noticed Overman and waved to him with his glove.
Everyone loves a local-kid-makes-good story, and the whole south county will be pulling for one of their own on Feb. 25. Here at The Olympian, we’re just as proud of our photojournalist, who will be there to record the fulfillment of a dream: a shot at the crown.
Only a local newspaper can carry off a project of this duration. It requires being tuned in to the family and the community, as well as the main subject. It means becoming part of the community we cover, and developing affection for those we have already written about, as well as those whose stories we will tell tomorrow.
I hope you enjoy this special photo story.
Get Mario Batali on the phone, Olympia Olive Oil is opening a store in downtown Olympia, offering 48 varieties of EVOO, flavored oils and balsamic vinegar. ... Andrea Casebolt of North Thurston High School and David O’Brien of Capital High School both recently competed in the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Wisconsin. ... More than 20 schools – from preschools to high schools – are staging the third annual Olympia Area Private School and Preschool Fair from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. on Jan. 28 at the Olympia Community School gymnasium.
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.