DELLY CARR IS THE BIGGEST ARMCHAIR SPORTS FAN AROUND AND THE ONLY AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHER EVER TO BE INDUCTED AS A MEMBER OF THE WORLD PHOTOGRAPHY ACADEMY. HE HAS BEEN A NIKON AMBASSADOR SINCE 2009.
If Delly Carr is never forced to eat another vegemite sandwich again, it will still be too soon. While he can barely acknowledge its smell or stomach its taste, it serves a stark reminder of just how far Australia’s busiest sports photographer has come since the early days when he was forced to consume the spread famously blended from leftover brewer’s yeast for dinner when struggling to earn a living off his craft.
Then, a financially spent economics graduate with six years of corporate life and a redundancy under his belt, the Delly of today is a multi-award-winning photographer whose bucket list of sports and events is getting smaller by the minute.
Commissioned as Official Photographer to some of the most prestigious sporting bodies on the planet – including Swimming Australia, Sydney Thunder, the NSW Mens and Womens Cricket Team, the Sydney Running Festival, the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour, Surf Lifesaving Australia and Sydney FC Football Club – the 50-year-old is officially ranked as Australia’s best (not to mention busiest) freelance sports photographer. His current work has been featured prominently in promotional campaigns for companies as diverse as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Organising Committee to the Bradman Foundation, and his client list reads like a who’s who of the Australian sporting scene.
Globally he has carved out a reputation as one of the world’s leading triathlon photographers while the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will mark the 10th consecutive Olympic Games events he has been invited to attend.
Born and bred in Sydney, Delly says his tribal passion for sport was inherent from an early age after growing up in the era of the great St George and South Sydney rugby league teams and spending most weekends at the footy with his cousins.
“I can also remember cutting out all the great sports photos in the newspapers and footy magazines [and] gluing them in scrapbooks. As a teenager, I wasn’t allowed to play sports in high school for a few years due to having braces on my teeth.
Wanting to be with my mates, I conned the sports master to allow me to take action photographs of the rugby teams for the school newsletter so I could be with them.”
After completing his economics degree at uni and later being offered a retrenchment from his job as a marketing manager, Delly’s fate changed when he took a six-month sabbatical in Europe.
“I was in Italy at the time and watched the Barcelona Olympic Games opening ceremony on the tiny TV in our hostel. Travel plans changed quickly, and the next day I got into the rental car and drove to Barcelona. Managing to get some tickets, I spent my time looking at the photographers more than the action at most events. I can remember leaving the Olympic Stadium for the very last time and I knew my destiny had changed.”
With no formal training to speak off, Delly’s first shoot was for the Australian Bicentennial Authority where he was charged with covering a lot of the sponsored sports for that year. He still has his first cheque from them for $15, and retains the framed double page spreadsheet the organisation published. His involvement with Nikon came about after Delly recognised that all serious photographers he knew already worked with the brand.
While work was slow for a number of years, things changed the minute Sydney was awarded the 2000 Olympics, he says. Earning enough of an income to pay the bills and put food on the table, Delly remembers numerous sleepless nights fretting that he was “still just a freelancer with no real reputation”.
“My hope was to get enough pictures at those Games to build a strong portfolio, because at the time I wasn’t confident of either my career or my reputation,” he recalls.
The home games marked a defining moment for Delly when he won an award for the best action photography of the Sydney Games, propelling him onto the world stage.
Today around 75% of Delly’s work is overseas. While he would prefer more jobs at home, he says watching the upwards trajectory of the many athletes he has photographed over the years has taught him a lot about the importance of stamina and self-belief.
“The world’s best in all the sports are at their absolute peak, so as a photographer you also need to be as well. The action will be at the greatest intensity you will experience as a sports photographer. So will the emotion. As a photographer, you really only have one chance to capture it. So, to meet that challenge, you too must be like an athlete and not get tired emotionally or physically. You need to be on your game from the first minute to the last. Seeing how athletes strive for perfection, overcoming their physical limits, using mental techniques to get more from their performance, I use those images in my head to go through life day by day. Especially when days get tough.”
While he has now ticked most items off his bucket list, Delly says one of the things that make him the proudest is the knowledge that his work continues to evolve. In particular after learning how light behaves in an image.
“It’s a cliche about how we chase light and how we cannot work without light. But it is a real art to understand it. Refraction, temperature, clarity … it needs real knowledge and thought.”
Delly, who in his spare time collects old vintage pinball machines and toys – “they resonate so loudly and beautifully in my creative brain” – says while there are a host of great sports photographers out there, it is snappers such as US sporting legend Neil Leifer, British photographer Eammon McCabe and Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Selgado from whom he draws the best inspiration.
These photographers inherently know how much easier their job becomes when they are no longer content to just sit and watch the action, he says. “[For me the comfort I get from being part of the play] allows me to react quickly to the peak action, allows me to anticipate a key movement before it happens, and gives my ‘photographic eye’ time to relax and see new opportunities. And 99% of the time, being in ‘the right place at the right time’ has happened because you had some knowledge of the sport and anticipated it.”
For photographers to really understand and know the game they are shooting, they must first understand the rules of the sport, the way it flows, what the athletes are likely to do and how they may react. The greater the affinity you have with a sport, the more likely your mind will flow with the game, which then moves into a physical translation by pressing the shutter at the exact time, he says.
“Once upon a time I would say I got all my inspiration from other photographers, but in the past few years this has changed. I draw my thoughts, energy, and creativity from all of the arts. Theatre, movies, song, dance, painting, sculpture, and even simple things like a beautiful arrangement of flowers. I am touched by anything creative.”
Ultimately though, Delly sees his job as capturing pictures that tell stories that please and amaze those who view them. “My world is about moments, quick fleeting moments that are otherwise missed but brought into existence by the physical photograph. And the moments are many, the moments are quick, and the moments all exist with different biologies to each other. The biology is determined by the vision and portrayal that I judge as being part of its outer skin. I try to put a little of my own self into the grand vision, and ultimately the exhibition of that captured moment. And as soon as there is a spectator for the photograph, the photograph and moment exists.”
[Words: Tracey Porter]
What’s in Delly’s bag?
“My current kit consists of two pro Nikon bodies. In addition, I have a NIKKOR AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR, a NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/2.8G IF ED VR II, a NIKKOR AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8, a NIKKOR AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, a NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, a NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, a NIKKOR AF-S Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF ED (1:1) VR fisheye, SB-5000 flash, and a multitude of CF cards. Most importantly, I have a trolley to cart it all around!”