In a year when Jayhawk fans rejoice in Allen Field House’s 60-year anniversary, photographer Rich Clarkson embraces an anniversary of his own—shooting his 60th men’s NCAA national championship.
Clarkson, j’55, a Presidents Club-level supporter and Life Member of the Alumni Association, shot his first Final Four in 1952, when his alma mater won its first national championship. In just a few short weeks, he’ll head to Indianapolis to document the culmination of college basketball season one last time.
NCAA Champion magazine’s winter 2015 edition chronicles Clarkson’s long and prosperous career as a photographer. He made a name for himself by capturing unforgettable moments in just about any sport imaginable. But it seems that given a choice, Clarkson would take his camera skills to the court any day.
“Basketball is so unique in that, unlike football or some other sports, nobody is hidden behind shoulder pads or helmets,” he tells NCAA Champion magazine. “You get to see and experience the emotions of the game. You see it on people’s faces. You see it in their body language. You get all this in addition to the beauty of great athletic prowess and beautiful plays. You see the human element as well. To me, it makes basketball the most interesting of all the sports.”
To read more about Clarkson’s journey as a photojournalist and hear him describe his own favorite moments in NCAA basketball history, click here.
Watch a video of Clarkson recounting how he took one of the most recognizable photographs of his career:
He was director of photography for National Geographic magazine, worked for many years as a freelance photographer for Sports Illustrated—a relationship launched with his iconic image of Wilt Chamberlain, ’59, then a young KU sensation, tying his shoes while seated in a folding chair—and spent many years as photo editor at both the Topeka Capital-Journal and Lawrence Journal-World. Few professionals can offer better perspective on technological changes revolutionizing visual communications than Rich Clarkson, j’55, and, while he admires the work that came before, Clarkson does not yearn for a return to the past.
“I view this as the best days of all of the photojournalism I’ve been involved with,” Clarkson says from his Denver photography, publishing and project management firm, Clarkson Creative. “This is the golden era, right now.”
Clarkson, a 2011 Fred Ellsworth Medallion honoree, has long maintained close ties with the University, including as a Presidents Club and life member of the Alumni Association, longtime trustee of the William Allen White Foundation and an Endowment Association life trustee. In 2011 he donated $200,000 to create the Rich Clarkson Multimedia Gallery in Stauffer-Flint Hall, and in 2014 he gave a $100,000 endowment to support Alumni Association communications, including Kansas Alumni magazine.
“It’s the greatest outreach that the University can possibly have,” Clarkson says, “and you all do it so well.”
He encourages others to follow his lead in nurturing their University legacies, in part by affiliation with the Alumni Association.
“It’s an extension of the University experience,” Clarkson says, “and a beautifully orchestrated extension at that.”
Clarkson in 2015 will photograph his 60th-consecutive men’s NCAA Final Four. It would be a bonus for him to again watch his beloved Jayhawks from his courtside perch, but regardless of KU’s tournament fortunes, he’s certain to savor an experience that never grows old.
“One never knows for sure who is going to win. It could be the best team on one really interesting night in a regional that then marches forward to the national championship. It’s the surprise, the unpredictability, and at the same time the excellence of play and the intrigue of all of the fans.”
This profile was originally published in the KU Alumni Association’s 2013-14 Annual Report, a supplement to Kansas Alumni magazine. Click here to view the full report and learn more about membership and alumni records, Presidents Club, the Association’s year-end financial report and highlights from the year.