The art of capturing USC at its finest


When tailback Reggie Bush hurdled over UCLA cornerback Marcus Cassel in December 2005, he was there.

When wide receiver Mike Williams reminded us of his greatness with a one-handed catch for the ages against Oregon State in 2003, he was there.

And when DeMar DeRozan and Daniel Hackett helped to lead a legendary USC basketball team to the podium stage of the Pac-10 championship in March 2009, he was there.

For all of those great moments and images frozen in Trojan lore, odds are that Jon SooHoo is neither the name nor the face with which you associate them.

But for every cardinal-and-gold-draped running back who takes one final stride toward the end zone and for every USC shooting guard who lifts up for one last attempt from three-point range, SooHoo and his camera are never far behind.

What started as the dreams of a fresh-faced Daily Trojan photographer in the darkroom of the Student Union building back in 1981 has subtly transformed into a collage of some of this university’s most riveting sports moments throughout the past three decades.

“I always found the darkroom experience to be such an awesome time,” SooHoo said as he reflected upon where the origins of his passion began. “The idea of taking a shot, developing it into print and then publishing it was fascinating.”

But arguably the most fascinating thing that often goes overlooked about SooHoo, whose time as USC athletics’ chief photographer has spanned from the glory years of Cheryl Miller to the Heisman campaign of former quarterback Matt Leinart, is what drives him to keep shooting.

“For me, it’s about the art,” SooHoo said without hesitation. “Looking back on it all, I wouldn’t change anything. I could have taken pictures for the Angels or for UCLA. But why would I? What better platform to create art than taking pictures for the Dodgers and USC.”

Although the rise of online journalism and photojournalism has threatened the role in which SooHoo has grown accustomed through the years, the Silver Lake, Calif., native has never wavered in his pursuit of the next great shot.

What can’t be seen in the black-and-white photo plastered beside the USC game summary in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times or in the Sports Illustrated candid of the Trojans’ clinching the 2004 national championship in Miami is the love that gets poured into each picture.

Call it a cheesy line to get a quick smile, but SooHoo enjoys bringing the action to your fingertips. Somewhere between technology’s rapid rate of growth and society’s insatiable appetite for accessibility to the entertainment world, there still lies a man who finds solace in preserving an era of influential recollections that seemingly play second fiddle to a new-age approach of image consumption.

“Nowadays, what has changed are the expectations of the public. The public is now being saturated with people throwing so much crap at them, whether it’s by cell phones or with point sheets or whatever it may be, that the appreciation for photography is not there anymore,” SooHoo said. “But I love what I do, and I don’t really care what other people are looking for or what their expectations may be. I shoot for me.”

Although this me-first attitude might put off some people at a time where it seems every accolade or landmark achievement is fading or finding its way out of Heritage Hall, having SooHoo as the school’s protector of on-field masterpieces is a comforting thought.

Be it the Bush push, a Rodney Peete scamper toward the pylon or Notre Dame’s linemen nearly taking off the head of former USC quarterback Sean Salisbury, NCAA penalties and the expected two-year-long stigma that will continue to follow the program have no jurisdiction when it comes to the work of SooHoo.

The seasoned photographer has captured the beauty of Robert Woods’ unperturbed gate as he breaks free down the left sideline in Minnesota, the sullen look on sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley’s face as he walks off the field in the moments following an errant pass or the sternness of USC coach Lane Kiffin as he heads to the locker room in disgust after watching another underwhelming half of football from his novice-laden team.

These moments of ephemeral emotion are what inspire SooHoo to hop on a plane for the weekend to cover a game in Minneapolis or Pullman, Wash.

Because, as much as the art means to him, sharing the frames of unscripted feeling and uncommon imagery with the millions of fans that make up USC’s rabid base is a joy that comes with no price tag attached.

Sadly, chances are that most people are often more preoccupied with the product than its producer.

Social media has impressed upon us that the most efficient way to grasp an entire story told in album form is by skimming through the pictures as fast you can.

It’s why when you read up on the analysis of last week’s 32-21 USC victory the images that showed up on your computer screens, newspapers or weekly magazine subscriptions probably lasted about as long as the Golden Gophers’ lead held up in the third quarter.

Although SooHoo recognizes this trend as much as the next sports photographer, it doesn’t deter him from maintaining the vision he has held onto, even after all of these years — making art from the snapshots of history.

It’s why SooHoo wastes little time fretting about being overlooked by the general public.

“I want, if I could, to be remembered simply as a really nice guy who took good pictures,” SooHoo said.

Yet even as the self-effacing sentinel of the Trojans’ last three decades of treasured athletic moments deflects the type of attention that his body of work deserves, it’s safe to say that SooHoo’s legacy won’t fade, even if change continues to wreak havoc in his profession.

My advice for the next time you are so eager to pillage through a gallery of USC’s future batch of can’t-miss moments: Look at it a little harder with a more appreciative eye.

I promise that beneath the poster-worthy reverse dunk or the ridiculous full-extension touchdown grab and soon-to-be desktop background is something far more special.

It is a timeless love affair between an artist and his canvas — one which SooHoo has afforded all of us, sports fans and otherwise, the privilege of witnessing firsthand.

“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at dulberg@usc.edu.