The Image Pit

by Serge Daney

Julien Faraut’s In the Realm of Perfection (IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION) observes John McEnroe contesting matches at the Stade Roland Garros. Film critic Serge Daney could often be found there in the audience too. From 1980 to 1990, he also wrote about tennis for the French newspaper “Libération”.

 

It was raining. The photographers had taken shelter and were nattering away when a loud voice ordered them to the conference room with regard to “a matter relating to them.” There, they learned that certain players, including John McEnroe, had complained to the ATP and tournament supervisors that the noise from the cameras and video-cameras was disturbing them during play. “What can be done about this?” asked Christian Duxin, slightly perturbed. Three years ago, during one of its endless transformations, the French Open had set up a pit of sorts for photographers on Centre Court and Court No. 1 from where they could shoot the players. Convenient, yes, but too close it seems.
What could be done?
There was a range of reactions among the photographers present. Some were quick to give in, saying if worst came to worst, the French Open could manage without photographers. Television coverage was perhaps enough. Others were outraged at the thought of being patronised, brushed off, treated like they were “the dregs of the earth just for doing their job”. And then there were those who immediately sought a compromise. Duxin offered to plead their case with the players and the ATP, suggesting a ban on taking photos during serves at least. Various themes were discussed: soundproof walls, a photographers’ strike, the sound from the aeroplanes at Flushing Meadows, the photographers’ code of conduct.
Above all, they spoke about the only disgruntled player able to be cited by name, John McEnroe, the most photographed player in the tournament also being the most staunchly opposed to the media. He doesn’t play by their rules, although that’s putting it mildly. The day before, he had hit a ball at one of  the camera booths at the back of the court and then glared – from some way away – at two TV grips who were chattering away, high up on a crane, thinking they were all alone in the sky. Even microphones, typically known for their silence, are not spared Big Mac’s wrath and the journalists’ questions often receive sarcastic quips.
It didn’t take much for the tribe of photographers to give themselves over to cries from the heart in both French and English. Moans from the heart, more like it: they earn “very little” photographing McEnroe who is for his part rolling in cash and who uses his standing to intimidate the umpires and to boss people around. Maybe he should be reminded to show some basic manners! Maybe he should stop meddling when the photographers are in play! Duxin, wanting to gloss over the incident, took the opposite tack. When they started talking amongst themselves about big money, he shouted, “Please don’t talk purely of money – it’s all about sport here.” Then he went off, the flustered middle man, to work towards a compromise.

June 5, 1984

(“La Fosse aux Images” in “L’amateur de tennis” by Serge Daney © P.O.L. Editeurs, 1994)