Leonard Kamsler, a dissecting golf photographer, dies on the age of 85


Leonard Kamsler, a photojournalist whose award-winning images of professional golf had been beyond the scope of sports strobe photography for nearly 50 years when he collected more than 200,000 images on the PGA Tour, died on November 18 in Bethel, NY 85.

His husband and only immediate survivor, Stephen Lyles, said the cause was organ failure. Mr. Kamsler had houses in Bethel and Manhattan.

Jim Richerson, president of the PGA of America, called Kamsler "the undisputed dean of golf photography". Last month, Mr. Kamsler became the first recipient of the Photojournalism Organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Practically half of that life has been spent on the golf course, despite the fact that a camera has been hauled in instead of clubs. From 1963 he covered 40 consecutive Masters tournaments, 17 P.G.A. Championships and 22 US openings that freeze moments of action in indelible images.

"His ability to take the perfect picture at the perfect time was unmatched by anyone in the business," said golf champ Tom Watson in a video tribute when Mr. Kamsler received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mr. Kamsler's technical innovations in high-speed flash photography have the entire arc of a golf swing from start to finish in stop-motion exposures – from address to backswing to contact to tracking – for every position of the hands, arms and feet openwork, legs, torso, head and club in a single image that is reminiscent of a wind turbine.

George Peper, his editor at Golf Magazine for 25 of the 60 years Mr. Kamsler has associated with publication, said it was Mr. Kamsler who "created the golf swing sequence without question."

Mr. Kamsler, he said, "learned at Edgerton's knee" and was referring to Harold Edgerton, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who pioneered stroboscopic technology. Mr. Kamsler began advising Mr. Edgerton in 1957.

He also developed a close relationship with Charles Hulcher, who had developed a specialty camera to record slow-motion studies of rocket launches.

Mr. Kamsler's main instrument was a huge 35 millimeter high-speed Hulcher camera that was originally designed to record at around 70 frames per second. He was able to push the limit to 100 and then to 200 frames per second – which meant he could dissect an entire golf swing in less than three seconds of lightning-fast exposure.

Mr. Kamsler's first sequential stop-motion study of Arnold Palmer's technique and club head dynamics "caused a stir," Peper said, adding that it was "posted on the wall of every golf instructor in America" ​​as a teaching aid.

Mr. Kamsler documented more than 400 golf swing sequences by other champion golfers, including Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Kathy Whitworth and Tiger Woods.

During a tournament it could be innovative to capture the action. A risky technique was to plate yourself on the ground with your camera and have the best golfers in the world hit over the head. During a training tee setup, he positioned Mr. Nicklaus so close that the golfer's explosive shot only missed the destruction of Mr. Kamsler's lens.

According to P.G.A. Mr. Kamsler was the first photographer to set up remote-controlled cameras behind the notoriously challenging holes 12 and 15 at the Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters is played.

Some golfers hated being photographed up close during the competition, so Mr. Kamsler would resort to List. He once hid in a trash bag to catch the camera-shy Australian Bruce Crampton.

Beginning in the 1970s, Mr. Kamsler expanded his field to profile artists in Nashville including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. Many of his pictures became the cover of record albums.

His collection of music images was recently purchased by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, where many are on display. More than 20 of his photos were featured in Country Music, Ken Burns' 2019 documentary series for PBS.

Mr. Kamsler's flashlight work also extended beyond golf. He developed a complex lightning system to capture the first attempt at a folding cross somersault by the Flying Cranes air force of the Moscow Circus. The picture appeared on December 30, 1990 in the New York Times Magazine with a cover article about the troupe.

As a circus lover, he also photographed performances by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams and the stage act of the magicians Siegfried & Roy with tigers.

As a PGA Tour game, Mr Kamsler could hardly be ignored. For years he came to events in his candy-apple-red tailed Cadillac Eldorado convertible, its six-foot, large-circumference frame clad in a golf shirt tucked into polyester pants held by a pair of suspenders.

His main sports business was Golf Magazine, where he was a contract photographer from 1959 to 2019. His photos have also appeared in many books.

Golfer Pushback was part of the job of photographing players who are sensitive to distractions while playing. Mr. Kamsler "got the shark bite on occasion," said Greg Norman, the Hall of Famer, nicknamed the shark.

"He understood what this shark bite meant," added Norman in the video homage, "that I was intense – and I was in my moment."

When Mr. Kamsler was filming an 18-hole celebrity golf feature with actor Jack Nicholson in Miami, he grabbed the bill from Mr. Nicholson's hat because it hid his eyes. "Nobody touches Jake's hat!" Barked Mr. Nicholson.

Leonard Macon Kamsler was born on October 18, 1935 in Raleigh, NC, to Morton and Helen (Strother) Kamsler. His father owned a retail business and his mother was a housewife. His father gave Leonard his first camera at the age of 12. In 1957 he graduated from Broughton High School in Raleigh and in 1957 Duke University. When he moved to Manhattan, he became an assistant to celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene for $ 32 a week. One of his first jobs was to photograph Marilyn Monroe.

After serving in the Army, Mr. Kamsler returned to Manhattan and got jobs as a freelance photographer.

His passion for flash photography led him to play golf – for the opportunities it gave him to "capture movement," said his husband Lyles, adding, "He started knocking on doors until they looked at his pictures."

Mr. Kamsler sold his library of more than 200,000 images to Popperfoto, a partnership with Getty Images, in 2018.

Despite all preoccupation with golf, the game itself has never attracted more than its trigger. After a lifetime of tournament games, Mr. Kamsler was proud to say: "I've never played a single game of golf."