Photo Finishers

In my previous post I reviewed a few running publications. One that was not included in that review is Ultrarunning magazine. With each new issue, I realize that I am not Ultrarunning’s ideal subscriber. This is because the more I read it, the more I become convinced that I never want to do an ultra event. On the other hand, a half marathon used to seem insurmountable.

When I read Ultrarunning, I get a glimpse into a subculture of which I’m not a member. One article’s subject is likely to appear as a byline on another article. This is a small community – maybe numbering in the thousands in this country. Ultrarunning is truly by, for and about ultrarunners. Printed on the kind of paper stock used in high school yearbooks, held together with staples, it’s charmingly amateurish — a labor of love for its publisher, perhaps.

The point of this post is that, if you look carefully, you can often find art in the unlikeliest of places. There is one regular feature of the magazine that I do look forward to every issue and that’s the “finisher photos” by photographer Larry Gassan. He snaps photos of people who have just completed events like the Western States 100, a grueling race up and down California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in summer.

These portraits are wonderful. They capture the exhaustion, elation and – most of all – the pride of the finishers. Here’s one of my favorites, from another race (the Angeles Crest 100), of Ashley Idema, first woman across the finish line. Sure, she looks like she’s been run over by a train, and more than a little relieved. But she also looks radiant and strong, ready to take on the world. Which she already has, in a way.

A good portrait photographer captures the personality of his or her subjects, but also leaves some mystery there to keep you guessing. That’s happening in many of these photos. And that’s what maks them art.

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