Mike King

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Mike King


The devastating news of the death of our friend and colleague Mike King was greeted last week with a mixture of disbelief and enormous sadness. He was not only one of the best sports photographers of his (or any) generation but he was also generous, witty and great company. There have already been several obituaries and memories including one from the Sports Journalists Association and a slide show by Philip Brown posted on the web and featured in national newspapers. This short but heartfelt tribute from Peter Tarry is posted here in the hope that others will add their comments about Mike and his professional life.

I first met Mike back in 1989 when I was a lowly junior photographer at a small sports agency and Mike was a staff photographer on the Observer.

At that time I feel that Mike was really enjoying life – a great flat, a Saab 9000 and a great job that involved traveling the world and getting to take fantastic pictures. But success never went to his head and he made time for everyone. He helped and encouraged me getting work at The Observer and was always pleased to offer advice. He would also ring up and ask if you wanted to go and take pictures for fun – events like lawnmower racing or early tough guy races, or if you just wanted to pop over to his house and play around with some new lights.

Mike was without doubt one of the finest sports photographers this country has produced. I remember looking through his contact sheets in the Observer darkroom – every frame was usable. The pictures were all pin sharp and beautifully composed. Just give him a couple of Nikon F3s, a manual 300mm 2.8 and a 180mm and Mike would produce magic – he was a craftsman – autofocus was of no benefit to him at all.

In recent times Mike loved covering London 2012 – he was in his element – it was the ultimate sporting event and it was being held in his city. After the closing ceremony we walked back to the Media Centre together – the party was over and we both felt it. But next morning Mike was back shooting the now deserted venue and getting the pictures published!

Mike was a prolific photographer – he loved taking pictures and never stopped – but beyond all of his skills as a photographer – Mike was a wonderful person whom I am proud to have called a friend.

Please feel free to add any comments that you wish to.

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Comments 18

  1. Andy Stenning

    I was going to say “I didn’t know John” but then I’d get a load of complaints. Instead I will also confess I only knew Mike by a few snapperweb joshings. But reading the comments above I wish I’d known him better, sad news.

  2. Matthew Ashton

    His pictures said a thousand words – or mostly just one – which was normally “WOW”…
    When I started out being a football photographer, sitting pitch side next to him, it was like being a youngster playing on the same pitch with Ryan Giggs and George Best.
    To tell the truth, I was a bit perplexed and in awe of him but along with ALbert Cooper, Mike was the king at making me feel most welcome.
    Indeed it was Mike who came up to me the next time I went to a big ball game and commented on my manual focussing skills.
    Yes, although that is like Elton John saying nice things about your piano playing, he had for some reason done his homework and had spotted my publications and had returned the ultimate compliment for someone so gifted in focussing himself.
    He was the definition of genuine. He had No hidden agenda, he was just Mike.
    People will for sure marvel at his fine work but for me I marvelled at his dignified approach to life.
    Despite all he went through he was always the same friendly chap who never sought anything in return.
    I know he struggled but he never moaned. He just commented when asked which made me feel guilty as he always turned the conversation around to suggest things like that I join him on an epic adventure to the south pole and being genuinely interested in the good of our industry.
    He somehow had a wonderful knack at batting off negativity.
    It’s so easy to write nice things about people who have been taken from us, but Mike was on a different level to niceness.

  3. Eddie Keogh

    It’s been lovely to see so many wonderful tributes to Mike, he truly was the best at an old fashioned art called follow focus. He was so generous with his time and his opinions. Most photographers I know love photography, but he really loved photography. It was in his DNA and that’s why it hurt him so much when he saw people take over the business whose bottom line was profit not the best picture. I can only thank him for his encouragement along the way and remember the many fun times we had together. “Dont be gentle with the rental”, was one of his favourite lines. RIP Mike

  4. Vickie Flores

    Still finding it hard to believe Mike’s gone – just so sad and far too soon. Mike was a lovely and kind friend to me with a huge heart and great fun to be with.
    I never worked with Mike but his sports photos speak loudly and proudly for themselves and when I get over the shock I’ll spend some proper time looking though them all, especially the older ones.
    I spoke to Mike on the phone the week before he died and after we’d done the exchange of Nissan micra jokes and teased each other about being closet boatspotters, we’d planned to meet up soon and he promised to take me for a ride in his latest car as I’d not yet seen it (he affectionately called the blonde bombshell) saying it would so much fun and could go fast! It was not to be, but I know it would have been a fun filled ride.
    A couple of years ago when it snowed heavily in London, me and a mutual friend Rob Powell met up with Mike and spent the best part of a day wandering around and enjoying the snow in Greenwich Park. We stopped off for tea and huge cakes then carried on until it was almost dark but Rob and I were struggling to keep up and were cold. Mike had recently returned from the antarctic and couldn’t help laughing at us – it was impossible not to see the funny side of slipping down hills in trainers as Mike’s boots held him solid and he looked in his element.
    We all took a few photos as we wandered around and it was also the day that I took the first and only photo that has made a woman cry with emotion when she saw it because of what it meant to her. I don’t think it was any coincidence that I happened to be out with Mike the day I took it.
    Another day and on the understanding it was only because I love horses (and Mike agreed they’re beautiful creatures), he let me look through all the horse photos he’d taken during the London Olympics on his computer. I’d seen a few of them in Metro or posted on Facebook a few weeks before, but I quickly became far more interested in those his rejected/not sent anywhere folder – it’s where I found my personal favourites and 99% of his rejected pictures were stunning. With a bit of persuasion he sorted me out a print which hangs on my wall and I love and will treasure.
    Mike always said that what made him the happiest was if he made pictures that gave enjoyment and happiness to people. He didn’t realise it enough but I hope in the weeks to come there will be some sort of exhibition of his work that includes not just the award winning pictures that have already been published but those he never shared at the time, but are just as brilliant and will give huge enjoyment to those who see them.
    RIP Mike, I’ll miss you.

  5. Graham Trott

    I knew Mike from the 1980s when we were both keen as mustard, working for our respective employers – him for Allsport and me on a Saturday shift at the Sunday Express. I was the rugby photographer and often sat with him at Twickenham. Later, in the 90s, we both worked at The Sunday Telegraph, and often bumped into each other in the darkroom or at the picture desk. Always friendly and open, with no attitude or agenda, other than to get great pictures – which somehow, he always did, I was in awe of his skill. Back in the days when we all used manual focus 300 and 600mm lenses on rugby, while I struggled at times to keep it sharp, follow-focussing on fast approaching action, Mike managed it effortlessly with a pin-sharp success rate I could only dream of. Always happy to chat and exchange information, Mike was one of the good blokes. Apart from Facebook exchanges more recently, I think the last time we actually met in person was some years ago in the car park of Calumet, Euston, where we discussed his Saab Turbo and my Mitsubishi V6. We probably talked about cameras as well……
    RIP Mike – we won’t forget you.

  6. Jeff Thomas

    There are some photographers who have taken such amazingly wonderful pictures that you just never forget having seen they’re images. They have produced images that are so unforgettable that I choose to refer them as “master photographers”. Mike King was one of those photographers. He was also someone who was extremely generous and possessed immense kindness. Mike will be missed terribly by all that were fortunate enough, including myself, to have known him.

  7. Paul Marriott

    If ever a surname could describe anyone, Mike KING had it. King of sports photography.
    I first met Mike many years ago whilst working for the kids football magazine MATCH. Working alongside someone with the talent of Mike really made you try and up your game.
    His pictures inspired you to try and get more pictures marked with a chinagraph on a neg sheet.
    His enthusiasm inspired you to take pictures.
    His advice, freely given, was inspiring.
    His encouragement to make me think ‘outside the box’ on jobs, was inspiring.
    I last saw Mike at a pre-Christmas gathering of press photographers, we enjoyed a few beers together in the company of many of ‘Fleet Street’s finest’.
    A social event with the presence of a KING.
    Rest in peace Mike, you have inspired many more people than you could ever imagine, and taken some of the greatest sports photographs EVER.

  8. Martin Dalton

    I can’t remember bexactly when I first met Mike – possibly whilst he was working for Bob Thomas. We would see each other at Arsenal, Chelsea, Wembley or wherever. We would chat about the usual; cameras, films etc. My work took a more local angle to it so there must have been a 15 year gap between seeing each other but that didn’t matter as it was like we had only seen each other the week before. Everyone knows what a great photographer Mike was, but I remember him as a great man who treated everyone he knew as though they were his best friend. I loved you Mike and will miss you.

  9. Liam Mcavoy

    I never had the pleasure of meeting Mike, but wish i had. I was blown away by his work and skill. As a fellow photographer I am very sad to hear of his passing, but I know that his legacy will never be forgotten by the amazing photos he has left for us to admire.

  10. Ken Goff

    I only had the pleasure of meeting Mike King once – at the 2012 olympics. I sat down opposite him in the media centre where we got chatting. After that one-time meeting, I felt I had known him for a long time and knew he was one of the ‘good guys’. It was a great shock to hear of his passing and I regret not being able to get to know him better. RIP Mike.

  11. Manu Palomeque

    Although I never met Mike in person I do remember having some long virtual conversations when I was preparing for my expedition across Europe and Siberia. He had so much experience in cold weather photography that his on-the-ground advice was second to none…. he even offered me his arctic clothing gear!
    My thoughts are with his family and young kids during this horrendous time in their lives and I’m sure, with time, they will remember him as a truly extraordinary soul.

  12. Pete Jenkins

    A week on and it still does not seem right or fair.
    I first met Mike in the very early eighties, I think he was probably still at school, and my business partner Tim kept telling me about this young lad who was going to be a top sports photographer. I say young he was only a few years younger than me. Tim and Mike went to the same amateur photo club in Ealing, and it was Tim’s enthusiasm for Mike and his work that brought us in contact.
    Soon after this first introduction I met Mike again, and he was working for Bob Thomas up in Northampton, and from then on we met on a very regular basis mostly, but not exclusively at Rugby Union events, press conferences and other ‘shoots’.
    Allsport recruited him from Bob’s – there seemed to be quite a flow of BT talent towards Wimbledon in those days – Wimbledon, Rugby, football, Wembley Twickenham, I met Mike almost weekly and we talked of work, cameras, cars (and motorbikes), and women, as one does.
    Mike was justifiably chuffed to get the Observer gig, and the first week I met him after this he seemed about 12 foot tall. (Mike was a long lanky lad in any case and I am only 5’6” so I think you can see where I am coming from). Mike had a tough gig following on from Eamonn McCabe and Chris Smith. The Observer was the only other paper I bought every Sunday apart from the Sunday Telegraph week in and week out because I wanted to see Mikes pics as much as my own!
    Mike’s move to the Sunday Telegraph came as a huge surprise to those of us on the sports team, all of a sudden one Saturday he was there amongst the queue of snappers trying to get to the processors. So for many months I was witness to Mikes negatives as they came off the processor and as they were laid out onto the light box, Grand National, Grand Prix, Rugby, Football and Tennis.
    Sadly not long after Mike arrived the Sports team was slowly dispensed with and in my turn I parted with the Sunday Telegraph Picture desk time to spend more time running my own sports Agency. I continued to see Mike throughout the nineties at a multitude of events, but with ‘wiring’ and then digital cameras there always seemed to be less time to natter than in the good old days whilst we waited for despatch riders.
    I moved up to Nottingham in 1999, and slowly moved out of both sport and newspapers, so my contact with Mike stopped for a while.
    My contact with Mike recommenced partly due to Facebook and partly due to the alarming spate of deaths amongst Sport Photographers, where we met up far too often at funerals. We had a very long chat at Tommy Hindley’s and since then we had been in touch by phone, Messenger or Facebook practically daily.
    The saga of the hairdresser’s car is one that many of us will remember fondly, and it was great to witness Mike being so happy.
    His sports pictures speak for themselves, but actually his work since leaving the ST has potentially far more impact, apart from anything else the huge scope of his work. Truly phenomenal photographs, from the North Pole to Greenwich Park.
    He was a lovely bloke too. Struggling from commission to commission in later years, like so many of us, his life slowed down and he took a real interest in those around him. He had always inspired youngsters coming into the business, but in his fifties he became even more of a splendid chap.
    Whilst for a long time we never socialised outside of the job, he was the smudger I had known longest. Suddenly not hearing from Mike for a couple of days was a surprise and then a few days later reading of his collapse and passing away was simply unbelievable. Still is.

  13. Eddie Mulholland

    When I started out at the Daily Telegraph I Would often bump into Mike in the darkroom there. He was immediately friendly in a time where that just wasn’t the default setting for ‘old hands’ when a new face turned up. It was only once I became familiar with his work that I realised he was so bloody good that he could afford to be that much more gracious than some who felt threatened by newcomers. As I got to know him over the years it became obvious that the security he had in his own ability had nothing to do with HOW NICE he was. Mike was nice because he was Mike. He was just an outstandingly good bloke. I did a couple of camera fairs with him, sharing a stall and trying to flog off old bits of spare kit and we became better mates. He had lived for a while in my neck of the woods and we regulary talked about meeting up for a beer and a curry in familiar haunts – in fact the last time we spoke we parted with promises of finally getting together.
    I’ll miss you Mike but I’m going for that beer with a few others from the East Dulwich massive this weekend. We’ll raise a glass to you mate. God bless, you were a top man.

  14. Nigel Howard

    Terribly sad news to hear of the passing of Mike King. He was a talented extra ordinary photographer with a host of talents. always CAPTURING the moment that telling the story. apart from that he was a lovely guy always happy to help and offer advice to new and seasoned photographers in a friendly warm fashion. He ENGAGED regularly on social media with fellow photographers sharing anecdotes and making friendly fun comments to other posts. Mike you are truly missed by me and many others and are a grear loss to our PROFESSION.

  15. Mark Wohlwender

    Boy oh boy I am still in shock! Great words from everyone saying the same thing. What a great man, a great diplomat Mike was, with a strong sense of injustice, when he felt inequality was too much he would say. Such a gentleman, so if he did you would listen. As a great photographer technically just superb, passionate and creative. Yes completely prolific and loved his wheels! Four and two…simply a wonderful human being.
    Very sad, known Mike now for over 30 years he got into his sports phtography professionallya couple of years before me, and went on to become good personal friends. That was Mike… very sad we had been trying to catch up only last month but as usual in this business we couldn’t and now it won’t happen. But what a legacy of photography, his personal work, outside of sport, was just as stunning. Thank you Mike for leaving your photos for us to enjoy even though you are not around in this world. Kingy RIP.

  16. Julian Herbert

    I remember a hair raising journey across London in 1997 after a Glenn Hoddle press conference in London in an ancient Saab, Mike loved the car but was worried about its oil consumption…… Still he kindly got me to Waterloo station in time for me to catch a train home before he went off and deved his film. Always remember how he thought of others before himself.

  17. Post
    Neil Turner

    I first met Mike at London 2012 where we were living in the same digs. I already knew of him having seen his work over many years and it was good to meet him. During the Olympics I was constantly impressed by the way he threw himself into his assignments. He quickly became a friend and I will miss his wit and wisdom almost as much as I will miss his photographs.

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