Photographer Heinz Kluetmeier has been known to pick up and suddenly race 70 yards along the sideline away from the action at a football game, cameras and light meters flying. "I might have a hunch that the next play will be a long run or an interception," he explains enigmatically. A Kluetmeier assignment can thus have athletic demands of its own, something 18-year-old Gary Pawlik discovered when Kluetmeier engaged him as an assistant at a recent Minnesota Viking game. Pawlik, 13 years Kluetmeier's junior, is a quarterback for undefeated Mount St. Benedict High School in Crookston, Minn., but two hours of chasing after Kluetmeier left him gasping. "I'll never do that again," he vowed.
Kluetmeier likes to think of himself as a low-key sports photographer, but that image does not match his man-in-motion style of doing things, which keeps him near the action, even where it is least expected. He happened to be present the night in January 1972 when the Minnesota-Ohio State basketball game flared into violence, and he recorded that memorably ugly scene. He crash-landed once in a hot-air balloon, and covering an elk hunt last fall in a rugged area of Hamilton, Mont., he became separated from the rest of the party. When he was finally found nine hours later, he was dehydrated, soaked and shivering.
The energetic Kluetmeier shot the photo essay on college basketball's snakepits that begins on page 100 in his usual energetic fashion. From the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, where he lives with his wife Donna and three daughters, he began, slowly enough, by shooting a Marquette game at the convenient Milwaukee Arena. Then he was off to Indiana, Maine, Texas, Louisiana, Maine again, Utah and California. The itinerary took Kluetmeier just two weeks to complete. "I could have done it all in a more leisurely way," he says, "but I would have lost touch. By blasting around, you get emotionally involved."
Blasting around keeps Kluetmeier in trim, and he also runs three times a week. Kluetmeier's qualities include a lively intelligence, a courtly manner and fluency in German from his boyhood in Bremen. His family migrated to Milwaukee when he was nine and he attended Custer High School where he was a varsity swimmer and captain of the tennis team. After graduating from Dartmouth (class of '65), he became a photographer for the Milwaukee Journal and in 1969 went to work jointly for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and LIFE.
Somewhere along the way Kluetmeier acquired a pilot's license, and he daydreams about owning a plane so that he can get around even faster. This week, in a homecoming of sorts, he will cover Ohio State-Michigan at Ann Arbor. His last visit to the Michigan campus was in 1971 when, working on a story for LIFE, he suddenly found himself in the thick of a demonstration over renewed U.S. bombing in Cambodia. After Kluetmeier photographed students ransacking the ROTC building, a group of them tried to seize his film. A $500 lens was lost and a $600 camera smashed but, accustomed to dealing with the unexpected, Kluetmeier had already removed the film and slipped it into his pocket. In a hurry.