Sport Art: "Homeward" by Clint Thayer Chosen by National Art Museum of Sport

by Deborah Proctor

The National Art Museum of Sport (NAMOS) offers a unique collection of fine art. Like other art museums, many forms of art are represented — from sculpture and paintings to mosaics and of course photography. Yet, unlike many art museums, the focus is on one thing, and one thing only, sport — or more specifically, the ART of sport.   "Art must depict or evoke sports, celebrating athletics or the athlete as a subject, whether individual or team, competitive or recreational, participant or spectator remembered, or studied still life, figurative, or landscape," states their annual competition materials.


Selected as part of the museum's 3rd annualInternational Commitment to Excellence in Art & Sport Competition is"Homeward," a fine art photograph by Clint Thayer, owner of Focal Flame Photography, Madison, Wisconsin. Thayer's work was selected from among hundreds of sport art entries representing 50 sports from 10 countries around the globe. The exhibition runs September 5-21, 2013 at the ArtCenter Manatee in Bradenton, Florida. The opening reception and awards presentation is on Thursday, September 5, from 5-7 pm.

In "Homeward," Thayer uses light and shadow to depict the Trek Midwest cycling team near the end of a long day's journey. This classic black and white sets the mood, while a strikingly simple composition captures the essence of the cyclists' story and draws the viewer into the scene. The description accompanying “Homeward” reads:

Lengthened shadows sweep across the road at the end of a training ride. A cadre of cyclists from the Trek Midwest Team head homeward after hours of drills over asphalt shared with milk trucks visiting dairy farms. Finely tuned to each other’s cadence, the teammates settle into tight formation as defense against the wind. At the top right corner of the frame, one rider trails behind the others. His presence raises questions: was he dropped from the pack? Is he fighting to keep pace with the others, lungs searing and breath ragged with effort of regaining his place? Will he overtake his teammates? Frozen in time, only shadows remain to tell the riders’ story.

When asked why he enters fine art competitions when his primary focus is capturing athletes participating in events such as 5K runs, cycling races, and triathlons, Thayer commented, "It's important to challenge oneself.  I believe artists need to push past the boundaries of known risks and open ourselves to a higher degree of possible failure...With my camera,...I have an opportunity to welcome an audience into a scene where the known and unknown provide a rich environment for the story...How could I not submit?"

Thayer feels it is an honor to be among the artists that represent"some of the best our generation has to offer." NAMOS obviously recognizes Thayer's talent for creating art from sport — his work has been selected as some of the most compelling sport art in the world in the 2nd Annual Competition; in a by-invitation-only Artist for the 2012 NAMOS exhibit entitled Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line, and now the 3rd Annual Competition.

Founded in 1959, NAMOS maintains one of the largest collections of fine art depicting sport in the United States. The museum is dedicated to encouraging artists engaged in the genre, and also to collect, preserve, and share the best examples of sport art NAMOS can acquire. The museum’s first home was in Madison Square Garden in New York. It has been in Indianapolis since 1990 and is currently seeking a new home for its growing permanent collection

About the Photographer:  Clint Thayer’s artistic projects have ranged from following individual athletes throughout months of training, 15-hour Ironman triathlons, and 6-mile ultraswim events to photo essays of speed skaters racing on frozen ponds. He has exhibited and won awards internationally, notably: National Art Museum of Sport, Indianapolis, IN (2011, 2012, 2013); Center for Photography at Madison (2010); Lakeside, OH, Photography Show; Adorama iPhone Photo Contest (2009); and XI Concurso Internacional de Fotografía Apícola.

At Focal Flame Photography, we believe that sport art captures the essence of human perseverance, dedication, and passion. What are your thoughts about sport art? Share them with the Focal Flame community – we’d  love to hear! 

Nathan Labecki: Cyclocross Photography at the National Art Museum of Sport


By Robyn M. Perrin

Walking through the National Art Museum of Sport evokes an odd sensation. Wherever the eye gazes, it is met with images of athletes – sprinting, swimming, hurling javelins, launching themselves into full-body tackles. Amidst so much motion, it hardly seems appropriate to stand in stillness and take in the colors and textures of the human figure.

Hugging one wall of an exhibit named “Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line,” a fine art photograph is displayed as a five-foot-by-nearly-four-foot canvas. Entitled “Focus,” it shows a cyclocross racer. The compositional elements include strong lines and angles: an oblique tree trunk frames the right side, a slash of red barrier tape provides a directional blaze, and bike handlebars tilt to support the rider’s powerful pedal strokes. Mud draws the viewer’s attention. It is spattered across everything – glasses, bike components, helmet, face.

And that face itself is a study in determination. Gazing at the path ahead, the rider is fully immersed in the throes of competition. His entire figure is poised to explode with forward momentum. A competitor is visible a mere bike length behind him.

Who is the subject of the photo? None other than Nathan Labecki, an up-and-coming cyclist from Milwaukee, WI. Labecki was in the fall semester of his senior year of high school when the photograph was made by Clint Thayer in September, 2011. Nathan’s love for cycling was encouraged by his father, Jay Labecki, who shares a passion for the sport. Throughout Nate’s high school years, father and son had trained together and traveled to race after race – not only in cyclocross, the human steeplechase of the cycling world in which riders traverse unpaved courses and carry their bikes over obstacles – but also road cycling and mountain biking.

“There’s never a bad day on a bike,” said Jay, while describing Nathan’s experiences at the USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross National Championships in Madison in January, 2012. The Championships were plagued with an unusual warm spell that made the course the consistency of modeling clay, followed by a cold snap that left stone-hard 3-inch-deep ruts. Nathan started the day intending to race on tubular tires, a type of racing tire that is glued directly into the rim – fast, but leaving no options to swap the tube if the tire flats. The tires did flat, but thankfully during the warm-up.

“It worked out,” said the elder Labecki. “He’s a strong rider.”

Strong, indeed. Nathan spent the spring of 2012 racing in Belgium. “He had a good series of races,” said his father. “He took a 3rd place in one of the races, a 4th in a field sprint in one of the other races, and led his teammates out for several good finishes.”

Nathan spent the rest of the summer competing in the U.S. and Canada against some of the fastest juniors in the world. Jay Labecki said that during the Tour of America’s Dairyland, Nathan “…was on the podium everyday, won the Downer Avenue race, and in the end took the overall yellow jersey for the Junior series.”

It’s no wonder that Labecki was recruited by Marian University – which, like the National Art Museum of Sport, is located in Indianapolis. Marian runs one of the most competitive cycling programs in America. Now, nearly a year after “Focus” was taken, Labecki is racing at the collegiate level for the first time. He is planning on racing at upcoming National Championships in multiple disciplines, including track, mountain biking, cyclocross, BMX, and possibly road cycling.

When asked about his thoughts on his son leaving for college, Nathan’s father paused for a moment. “We’ve biked together for so many years,” he shared. Although he is overjoyed at his son’s successes, “When he leaves for Marian, it’s not only a matter of seeing my son leave the nest. I’m also losing my training partner.”

But, in “Focus,” the intensity of Nathan’s competitive spirit as a junior rider on a brilliant autumn day remains forever frozen in time.

Editor’s Note: “Focus” is one of six works that have been displayed at the National Art Museum of Sport. All are available for purchase. A portion of the proceeds supports the museum. 

Signs of Labor: A Fine Art Photography Exhibit hosted by the Center for Photography at Madison


Photographers are a breed apart. When the dedication – or even compulsion – to make sense of the world through photography truly takes hold, it shows.

It shows itself in eyes ever-tuned to composition and the interplay of hues and light. It shows itself in the ability to visualize not only images apparent to the unaided eye, but those hidden scenes that would remain forever hidden without the photographer’s knowledge of lenses and f /stops, ISO and shutter speed. It shows itself in the photographer’s respectful interplay with his or her subjects, bearing witness to their countenance by creating images that ring true.

It shows in the absent-minded gaze of a photographer who reflexively reaches for his or her camera while thinking, “There is something happening. There are photographs I must make. I must be there.”

For many photographers in and near Madison, Wisconsin, this was a mantra repeated for weeks on end beginning in mid-February, 2011.

The series of events started on Friday, February 11, when newly-elected Governor Scott Walker announced a proposed budget bill that greatly diminished the collective bargaining rights of unionized public local and state employees. It was the largest change to labor rights since the state of Wisconsin provided collective bargaining rights to public employee unions in 1959.

Within days, crowds of protestors had begun gathering at the Capitol building in Madison. The number of protestors swelled to tens of thousands and at the peak of the protests the crowd sizes were estimated at well over 100,000.

Protestors filled the Capitol day and night, establishing an information center to track news on the ever-evolving legislative scene and filling many walls of the Capitol building with handmade signs. Union members marched at the protests, including those of firefighters and law enforcement employees who were exempted from the provisions of the bill. Over the weeks that followed, speeches were made by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Michael Moore, and a performance was given by musician Peter Yarrow (of the former band Peter, Paul, and Mary), among others. In late April, a counter-protest speech was made at a Tea Party rally by former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. While Madison residents have long been accustomed to news coverage of University of Wisconsin athletic events, the sight of dozens of media trucks from every major U.S. news organization parked around the Capitol square served as evidence of the historic nature of the events.

And in the midst of it all, photographers – even those not classically trained as photojournalists – felt a responsibility to serve as both artists and documentarians.

This led to a conversation months later between members of the Center for Photography at Madison when it became apparent that gallery space owned by the Center would be available during the summer months.

“CPM member Rich Armstrong…mentioned that he, and many other CPM members, have been taking thousands of photos down at the Capitol,” said Paul Nylander, organizer of the show. After discussions between Nylander, Armstrong, and past CPM president Reece Donihi, plans were made to host the “Signs of Protest” show as a juried exhibition.

Jurors Wayne Brabender, Becky McKenzie, and Paul Nylander selected 29 photographs from nearly 80 entries. Five of the selected entries, including “Stand Up” by Focal Flame Photographer Clint Thayer, were chosen as jurors’ top picks. “Stand Up” was described by a juror as “…a very powerful image in its stark contrast and bold, converging lines.”

Nylander said, “The selection [of the 29 exhibited photographs] was based first and foremost on photographic merits (composition, lighting, etc.) and not on political message. But we also wanted images to clearly convey a story in their own right, and preferably one that related to the protests. An ideal image would be photographically strong, and through image alone deliver the story of the protesters.” Nylander added, “We are somewhere between photojournalism and fine art in this exhibition.”

When asked about themes that emerged, Nylander noted that the show includes a great deal of thematic variety. “Everything from the blatant to the subtle, from the somber to the humorous, and from the emotional to the contemplative,” he said, while noting the inherent compositional challenges that “working” a crowd presented to local photographers. “But when, through good planning, plain luck, or some combination of the two, you get the great shot, you really know it,” said Nylander. “Many of the images submitted fit this category: truly well composed shots, technically good in their own right, and doubly so when considering the difficult environment the photographer was working in.”

The opening reception for the show was held on July 7 and was attended by over 130 people. News coverage of the exhibit appeared on WKOW 27, WORT radio, and other local news outlets.

Several photographers provided comments about their work. Clint Thayer of Focal Flame Photography (photograph entitled “Stand Up”) said, “I made the photograph on the evening of February 14, 2011, at one of the earliest points of the labor protests. While photographing near the Capitol at night, I came across a small group of protestors and was struck by both the intimacy and the intensity of the moment.” Thayer asked the subjects for permission to photograph them and used an off-camera flash to provide backlighting. The resulting image is angular and starkly lit, with the Capitol rising at an off-kilter angle relative to the subjects. The shadows cast by the protestors’ figures are elongated and the writing on one homemade sign appears luminous. “Many viewers have asked me if the image was altered using Photoshop,” said Thayer. “Aside from cropping and grayscale correction, it was not. The visual elements you see were achieved in camera.”

Kurt Westbrook (photograph entitled "PM WATCH") made his photograph at 4:46 pm on February 28th, 2011. “My plan that day was to look for a photograph with the late afternoon sun highlighting the capitol building and its flags, and whatever scene I might encounter,” Westbrook said. After walking up King St., he noticed a backlit building and a small group of law enforcement personnel wearing blaze orange vests, watching protestors from their post. Westbrook added, “The protesters were angry but respectful, and the chant to come said it all: ‘Whose house?...Our house.’"

Bill Pielsticker (photograph entitled "Liar!") made a composite of 165 images from three rallies.  Pielsticker said, “I created a 'Pinocchio Walker' poster for the Feb. 19 rally and brought home as many images of people photographing my sign as I did of the great signs others made.” He continued to photograph the sign-viewers at rallies on February 26 and March 12, and compiled the composite of the photographs-of-photographers. He included a single image in the composite of the original "Pinocchio Walker" protest sign.

Another composite was contributed by Peter Patau (photograph entitled “This is What Democracy Looks Like"). The image included nine black-and-white images taken with an iPhone. “The protests were unique among my photographic projects, because I was as much a participant as an observer,” said Patau. “As time went by, I started leaving the D90 at home and shooting more with the iPhone. Its casual informality erased many of the barriers between the observer and the observed. It made for a more natural interaction with people than when hiding behind a DSLR,” said Patau. [Author’s note: learn more about cell phone photography in another Focal Flame Photography blog post.]

Michael Rauch (photograph entitled "Charlie V.") submitted a photograph of Charlie V. Gasser, the lead singer for a  local band named Bascom Hill. The band was performing during a protest rally at the Capitol. Rauch said, “I was fortunate to be asked by a member of the band to photograph their performance….This protest was marked by cold and snow which did not dampen the crowd [estimated to be] up to 100,000.” The image of the crowd was reflected in the sunglass lenses of Gasser, and the photograph shows a sea of people stretching down State St. next to the Capitol. Remembering his experiences during the protests, Rauch recalled, “I was there early in the protests when the teachers were the primary leaders of the protests.  They often brought their children with them. They were polite and so were the police.  It was shocking to me to hear [later] news reports about ‘thugs’ after witnessing the interactions between the police and protesters.”

Tom Miller (photograph entitled "A Teacher Thanks a Farmer") contributed a photograph taken with a 70-300 mm telephoto lens during labor protests on March 12, 2011 in which a parade of pro-labor farmers drove their tractors to the Capitol from farms throughout Wisconsin. Miller said, “The image shows a teacher holding a sign thanking farmers for their support of the protest. There is part of an out-of-focus John Deere tractor in the foreground to provide context for the image.”

Ken Halfmann (photograph entitled "Shamester") documented a group of protestors who had constructed “a large (about 8 foot) orange cutout of a hand pointing a finger of shame at the Capitol building,” said Halfmann. He noted that the group had been carrying the cutout to protests in the area and maintained a web site about their efforts.  

Interested in seeing the entire exhibit? The “Signs of Protest” show will be open to the public every Saturday from July 9 through August 27 at the CPM studio, 303 S. Paterson St., 2nd floor. 

Any political opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewees, and are not necessarily the views of the Center for Photography at Madison or Focal Flame Photography.

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Artistry of Endurance Sports - Clint Thayer Exhibition at National Art Museum of Sport


Photos by Clint Thayer Selected for Exhibit on Racing at National Art Museum of Sport

Madison, WI and Indianapolis, IN – April 25, 2012 – The artistry of endurance sports is featured in a series of fine art photographs by Madison, WI photographer and Focal Flame Photography owner Clint Thayer. The photo essay has been selected for exhibition by the National Art Museum of Sport (NAMOS) in Indianapolis, IN. The exhibit, entitled Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line, will run at NAMOS from May 23, 2012 through September, 2012. 

“The five images I am showing in this exhibition highlight the artistry of endurance sports, including triathlon, cycling, cyclocross, and swimming,” said Thayer.


“Racing is primal and intense, and I wanted to depict the fear, trepidation, anxiety, tension, and resolution that many endurance athletes experience during a race.”

Thayer is one of seven internationally recognized artists whose work will be displayed. Additional artists include Chris Bucher, Scott Fincher, Sayaka Ganz, Walter Knabe, Thomas Allen Pauly, and Mina Papatheodorou-Valyraki

Elizabeth Varner, Executive Director of NAMOS, said, “The exhibit features over 30 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations from many top sport artists worldwide. Representing a wide range of artistic media, Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line captures the heart-pounding drama of racing [in 9 different sports]… we wanted pieces that would capture the power of racing, because everything about racing is larger than life – the crowds, the chaos, the loudness.”


In describing Thayer’s unique approach and perspective, Varner said,  “His work ‘Driving Rain’ was selected for exhibition during a juried 2011 competition [The 2nd Annual International Fine Arts Competition: Commitment to Excellence in Art & Sport]. There was tremendous reaction to ‘Driving Rain’  - just about everyone who saw it stopped in their tracks.”

Varner continued, “I like his photography immensely. I feel he is within the top three sport art photographers I have seen….While Clint Thayer has the technical capacity for conventional sports photographic technique, I think what sets him apart is that his style really crosses the boundary into true sport art. His work is so different; it captures the emotion and intensity of sport. They’re some of the most dynamic images I’ve seen.“


“I think that the power of motion in fine art photography is that it can be a bridge between representational images and abstractions,” said Thayer. “I use motion like I use light: to help frame and sculpt the visual narrative that’s in front of me.” 

Ms. Varner was particularly concerned about selecting artistic works capable of showing well in the expansive exhibition space of the museum. “The exhibition space at NAMOS is really best suited to large format art, and while many photographs are acceptable at small to medium format, not all work well at large format,” said Varner. “I knew from his previous showing that the scale of his pieces would really hit the mark, that it would really transform the exhibition space….When you present a photograph in large format, everything has to be absolutely perfect. I knew Thayer’s work could give that larger-than-life sense to viewers.

Photographer Tom McInvaille, a past special assignment photographer for the United States Olympic Team, said, “Clint Thayer’s sport photography gives a fresh approach to an overly clichéd and highly predictable genre…Clint gives us a glimpse into the larger world of an athletes life.  Putting a Minor White admonition into the world of sports journalism: ‘... show us not the object but what the object represents,’  is courageous and reasonably unique. At a time when simple technical proficiency and overly saturated color seem to be the primary aesthetic principles driving today’s imagery, Clint’s sensitivity to narrative and metaphor is a welcome change.” 

McInvaille concluded, “I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mr. Thayer’s work evolve into easily accessible yet complex stories. This is an attribute found in only the best of photographs, sport or not.”


Founded in 1959, NAMOS maintains one of the largest collections of fine art depicting sport in the United States. The museum is dedicated to encouraging artists engaged in the genre, and also to collect, preserve, and share the best examples of sport art NAMOS can acquire. “The founder of NAMOS, Germain G. Glidden, was a portrait artist and champion squash player,” said NAMOS Executive Director Elizabeth C. Varner. “Glidden believed that sport art is like the Olympics: it has the power to bring together people from all over the world in peace,” said Varner

Over 40 sports are represented in the over 900 paintings, sculptures, and photographs at NAMOS. Artists whose works are included in the permanent collection include George Bellows, Ogden Pliessner, Winslow Homer, Ray Ellis, James Fiorentino, Joe Brown, and Alfred Boucher.

The museum’s first home was in Madison Square Garden in New York. It has been in Indianapolis since 1990 and is located at 850 West Michigan Street, Indianapolis, IN. NAMOS is open free to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For group tours and weekend hours call 317.274.3627 or e-mail; for more information see An opening reception for Speed and Motion: Racing to the Finish Line will be held from 5:30-7:30 pm on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. 

The series by Clint Thayer is presented as 60” x 40” limited edition giclée archival prints on canvas, and all of the works are available for purchase. The series was sponsored in part by members of the Trek Midwest Team