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On Thursday, the winner of the World Press Photo Award 2015 was announced in Amsterdam. In the category of Sports Stories, Leica photographer Kieran Doherty was awarded first place for his series on tennis audiences at Wimbledon, in which he skilfully captures the throng of enthusiastic crowds as well as the mood behind the scenes. LFI spoke with him about spectators, the atmosphere on the court, and John McEnroe and Peter Fleming playing doubles.

What was your first reaction when you found out you had won the award?

I was watching the fantastic BBC production of Wolf Hall when a friend and colleague rang me up to tell me. I hadn’t realised the results had been published. I thought he was calling to talk about something else. Of course I was very happy.

Why did you choose to concentrate on the spectators? What gave you the idea?

Really, the spectators element came from my initial idea of wanting to shoot the story from my perspective of when I visited the Wimbledon Championships with my father when I was nine years old. That day had a lasting effect on me in many ways, not least because it was so enjoyable. We didn’t have tickets to the show courts, but someone kindly gave us their stubs as they were leaving the old Number One court, so that we managed to get a glimpse of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming playing doubles. We were way up in the back of the stand so they looked very small. Nevertheless I was able to go home and say that I’d actually seen John McEnroe. So we spent our time wandering around all the outside courts just soaking up the atmosphere, trying to find the best spots to see the action, watching as the players walked past us onto the court. The British tennis player John Lloyd walked past me, and he looked about eight feet tall. I bumped into him a few years ago and he is the same height as me but it made me think about how big he looked to me all those years ago. I think that the hugeness of the way everything appeared to me then just added to the charm of Wimbledon. I wanted to see if that charm was still there 30 years later – and it is. I still have my ground pass from that day.

Are there other types of sport or audiences you are drawn to as a photographer?

I love all sports, having shot most of them for an international news agency for the last twenty years. The only sport I haven’t photographed is indoor bowls. Tennis, football, rugby or cricket have spectators that are so different from each other, which makes them all such an exciting subject to photograph.

When did you start to photograph with a Leica, and why?

I’ve been working with Leicas since 1992, and I still have my M6 bodies and 35 and 50 mm lenses from back then. Now I use the lenses on an M9. I use them because they don’t make me look like a photographer, the lens quality is second to none, and I really don’t like lugging around heavy equipment!

What is the greatest compliment you could receive for your pictures?

If a photograph manages to make the viewer look at something in a different way and question it, then I think that photograph has succeeded. That would be a nice compliment.
© Kieran Doherty
© Kieran Doherty
© Kieran Doherty
© Kieran Doherty

Kieran Doherty

When Kieran Doherty first took up photography, he dreamt of his pictures being shown in the great galleries. Confronted with reality, however, he embarked on a career as a photojournalist in 1993 – working for the Reuters Agency until turning to freelance photography in 2008. Doherty’s photographs have been exhibited worldwide and have been honoured with multiple awards, most recently winning first place in the category of Sports Stories at the World Press Photo Award.

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