Born: July 30, 1930
in Spencer, Massachusetts
Died: June 28, 2017
The impact Russ Adams had on tennis can’t be placed into a neat, tiny capsule. The breadth and scope of his contributions are enormous and his stature among all the professionals behind the camera looms large. Known as “The Dean” of tennis photography, Adams took more than 1.6 million images, the majority in the tennis bunkers at all of the major championships, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and Olympic Games. If there was a tennis match that needed chronicling, Russ Adams was courtside.
Adams’s career traversed from black and white images to color. From film to digital; from long car rides to quick airplane trips; from the grass courts of Forest Hills to the magnificent Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. “You work like hell, to be honest with you,” Adams told USA Today during the 2012 US Open.
The photographer, whose work catapulted him above all others, had an inauspicious start taking tennis pictures. “I’d never seen tennis played before the sports editor (at the Boston Herald-Traveler) sent me to Longwood Cricket Club to cover a tournament (in 1953),” Adams told his friend and fellow Hall of Fame journalist, the late Bud Collins, “I didn’t even know how to keep score.” Fortunately for Adams, the legendary Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman was running the tournament and taught Adams the game. “She took me in hand, showed me what to look for, introduced me to players,” Adams explained.
Adams began taking pictures as a high school student, learning the craft of developing and taking pictures in both day and night before the advent of high-tech cameras made that process easier. He landed his first job at the Worcester Telegram and moved onto the Boston Herald-Traveler. His photography assignments put him into the thick of Boston’s intense sporting world, capturing the athletic brilliance of Boston’s legends like Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, Bill Russell, to name just a few. His images graced the covers of more than 300 magazines. In 1955 Adams was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Fifty years later his brilliance was still clicking at Pulitzer Prize levels. In 2002 he was presented with the USTA’s Media Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award.
The happenstance tennis tournament in 1953 was Adams’s entrée into tennis and he fell in love with the sport, ultimately focusing his efforts on capturing the game for more than 60 years. He was on court for World Team Tennis and Wimbledon, ATP, and WTC events. Adams was universally admired by his media colleagues, players, and administrators all around the world for his talent and professionalism. His impact reached photographers of all levels and skills.