Athletics photographer digs into archive for tribute book
When he traveled to Eugene, Oregon, to photograph Jayhawk athletes competing in the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Jeff Jacobsen found a free evening to dine with his friend and former Topeka Capital-Journal colleague Carl Davaz, j’75, who had retired a few months earlier from a long career at the Eugene Register-Guard.
“How’s retirement treating you?” Jacobsen asked Davaz, to which Davaz replied, “Oh, God, I’m bored. I need a project.”
Turns out, Jacobsen, now in his 23rd year as Kansas Athletics photographer after a long career in Topeka, had a project in mind: Tribute to Crimson & the Blue, a sumptuous, 256-page coffee table book filled with Jacobsen’s images of student-athletes from all 18 of KU’s varsity sports.
“The word ‘tribute’ was chosen for a reason,” Jacobsen says. “I wanted this to be a tribute to the student-athletes I’ve worked with. I’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs, and the student-athletes stay the same. They’ve kept me young. I’m 68 years old but I don’t feel or act like 68.”
He says Tribute to Crimson & the Blue came about in service to a personal dream of photographing local sports and athletes in all 105 Kansas counties, far from the spotlight of KU.
“So I got the idea that I needed a calling card,” Jacobsen recalls, but when he began researching his publishing options, he was less than inspired by formulaic formats that were both “very limiting” and “incredibly expensive.”
With Davaz signing on as the book’s designer, Jacobsen began sorting through his massive archive of film and early digital photography. Startled by the difference in the images’ technical quality, he decided to use nothing older than 2005.
What makes Tribute to Crimson & the Blue unique is the access it represents. It is not a fan’s homage to Allen Field House or other headline sports and star athletes. Rather, it is the memories of a photographer who carries all-access credentials wherever he roams.
Jacobson cites his images of swimmers on low carts using gloved hands to pull themselves up Memorial Stadium ramps during early morning dry-land training, and guard Sherron Collins, c’20, shooting a cellphone photo of KU’s latest Big 12 championship trophy while seated on the locker room floor.
“The behind-the-scenes images, to me, make the book,” Jacobsen says.
Shortly after he shot the annual photo of Bill Self surrounded by trophies and other tangible symbols of victory, in fall 2018, Jacobsen mentioned the project to the men’s basketball coach.
“I no more than started to talk to him about the book,” Jacobsen says, “when he said, ‘I’m writing the foreword.’” Recalls Self, as he wrote in the book’s foreword, “In less than three minutes of scanning these remarkable photos, I turned to him and told him I wanted to write the foreword. … I get a few requests to write forewords, but this may have been the first time I suggested doing it.”