Photographer Michael Going, who shot the picture act on the U.S. Open tennis tournament in this issue (page 44), drew some puzzled looks when he walked onto the Stadium Court at Flushing Meadow last year. "There I was, with my photo pass and my little Polaroid camera," Going says. "Everyone else had long telephoto lenses and monopods. I could tell they were thinking. What are you doing here?"
What Going was doing was creating the shimmering impressionistic images that constitute his unique perspective on the Open. His unconventional modus operandi is to manipulate the emulsion of exposed Polaroid film from an ordinary SX-70 camera. "The process is really intuitive," Going explains. "It has to start with a good photograph. The altering takes it a step further."
After waiting several minutes for a Polaroid photo to fully develop. Going starts working through the protective layer of acetate that covers the face of the photograph and begins altering the images under it. When he started experimenting with Polaroids six years ago, he used dried-up ballpoint pens to move the emulsion around. He graduated to toothpicks and needles and now uses a variety of graphic arts tools. "The pressure you use is very important," he says. "Some colors are harder to push around. I'll start work on the sky or the grass or one of the darker areas. Each section is altered separately." Going can work only as long as the film remains pliable, a period that varies from pack to pack; it can be as long as a few hours or as short as 15 minutes. "They usually have to be done right then and there," he says. At the Open, he would try to find a quiet section of the stands where he could work on a photo—using a clipboard and magnifying glass—but often that was impossible. "A lot of them were done with the other photographers around me," he says. "Others were done in the pressroom, which is really crazy."
Going didn't start out to be a photographer. He graduated from UCLA in 1965 with a degree in political science and then served with the Navy in Vietnam for two years. After completing his tour of duty he returned to Los Angeles, became a social worker and took up photography as a hobby. Entirely self-taught, he turned to photography full-time in 1973 and opened his own commercial studio five years later. He first heard of the Polaroid-manipulation process, pioneered by artist Lucas Samaras, in 1980. "I was hooked," Going says. "I've been doing it ever since."
A series of photos by Going on the Los Angeles Ballet caught the eye of our picture editor, Barbara Henckel, who called Going to discuss possible SI assignments. After considering the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Masters golf tournament, they settled on the Open. "We just asked for his view of the event," Henckel says.
Going spent eight days seeking "the in-between moments" of the tournament. "I was looking for ambience and mood rather than taking a photojournalistic approach," he says. "There's something in those pictures that's emotionally very positive. It looks like a nice place to be."
GOING WORKS WONDERS WITH POLAROIDS