"My goal was always to work for SI. I was obsessed," says Contributing Photographer Ron Modra, whose pictures illustrate the articles on swimmer Julie Ridge (page 36) and Pitcher Dan Quisenberry (page 74) in this issue.
Well, work for us Ron Modra does, obsessively: He gets to drop by his Manhattan apartment perhaps three times a month. When asked what his favorite assignments have been, he says, "The piece I did on Gary Carter. The one I just finished on John Riggins [for our special football issue in August]. I really enjoyed the one I did with Johan Kriek, and I was thrilled to spend a week with Borg. Oh, and then Martina! They're all great. I guess I can't really tell you—I've enjoyed them all."
Modra was born in Milwaukee, went to Grafton High in that city's suburbs, entered the Army in 1968 and was sent to Vietnam as a private the same year. He completed his tour of duty in 1969 and turned to photography. "My first full-time job was as a photographer for the Cedarburg (Wis.) News-Graphic" he says. "I covered mostly sports, and started free-lancing from there." Modra was the Milwaukee Brewers' photographer for seven years, and he did some work for SI before signing on with Inside Sports in 1980. We got him back, as a full-timer, in September 1981.
A private person, Modra says, "I tend to keep to myself. I'm interested in taking good pictures." But to do this, a photographer has to establish an almost instant rapport with people—"We don't have the writers' luxury of spending a week with a subject"—and life is thus not without a certain amount of social interaction. For Modra, this has involved being bitten in the leg by Cincinnati Quarterback Ken Anderson's little daughter before the Bengals played in Super Bowl XVI. When we were doing a piece on the Oakland A's outfield last year, Tony Armas, now of the Red Sox, gave Modra a hotfoot and set his pants on fire. In 1982 he was shooting an Alabama football game shortly after a Frank Deford story on Bear Bryant, one that caused some wrath in the South, appeared in SI. The loudspeaker system boomed, "Will Ron Modra of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED please report to the press gate," and 70,000 fans booed lustily. On the flip side, last season the Atlanta Falcons made him up a special jersey, with an F-stop on the back instead of a number, and two weeks ago he got to go catfishing with Riggins. The fishing wasn't so great, but Modra landed—well, more exactly, he "creamed it with something in the boat"—a passing copperhead, which Riggins plans to make into a hatband. All in all, a rich, full life.
But Modra apparently means it when he says he is essentially a private person. Last week he was on the road with Senior Writer Doug Looney. We needed a photograph of Modra himself, so he set it all up and Looney got behind the camera and snapped away, after which they discovered that, for the first time in his career, Modra had forgotten to put in any film.
There is such a thing, Ron, as carrying this privacy business too far.
RON MODRA'S TOUGHEST ASSIGNMENT SO FAR: MODRA