Photographer has made her mark on Heisman history
The shoot took no more than 15 minutes, the smiling 20-year-old clad in
his Texas A&M jersey posing in front of a white seamless
It’s just a series of photos in a weekend
in which Kelly Kline will produce thousands of them. But Saturday, when
the latest recipient of the Heisman Trophy takes a stage in the heart
of Times Square, the fruits of that photo session with Johnny Manziel
will be on full display — even if no one realizes it.
“Those are the ones that have really become part of
Heisman history,” Klein said.
the background during the ceremony are the portraits of the past
winners, the first 60-plus of which were painted by an a company owned
by former Tommy McDonald, the former Oklahoma All-America wide receiver,
who finished third in the Heisman voting in
McDonald, who is now retired, didn’t paint them
himself — he employed a team of six artists for that — but his
signature does appear on the bottom of the portraits. Tommy McDonald
Enterprises produced likenesses of winners beginning with the first, Jay
Berwanger (1939) through Ron Dayne in 1999.
years that followed the Heisman Trust, with the help of ESPN for its TV
coverage of the ceremony, began manipulating photos to look like the
past. Kline, who was asked to take photos of the original portraits,
noticed distinct differences.
“I could see that they
had gone to the schools for a couple of years and requested photos from
the schools and it just looked off,” she said from her home in metro
Atlanta. “A school headshot is very different than this Heisman hero
portrait or how they’d always been in the artists
The Heisman Trust’s official
photographer — she shot her first ceremony in 2005 — Klein suggested
that to properly link the trophy’s history, she should pay homage to it
by taking photos that looked like the old
“I think more than anything I felt like
there was a need for it,” she said. “I was like ‘We can take this to
another level and make it work a little better with the past and make
the present feel like all work together.'”
studied the old renderings, looking at the shoulder angles and the
different perspectives and beginning with Tim Tebow in ’07, has held a
portrait session with the winner.
After their Monday
appearance on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ the winner is in Klein’s
hands. She has them don shoulder pads and their jersey and makes slight
changes to produce a photo that can link the likes of Manziel, Robert
Griffin III and Mark Ingram to Doak Walker and Billy Sims.
“I do different things. Like I go a little low, I go
a little high. I have them turn a little left, a little right, a little
straight on,” Klein said. “I usually use two different lenses, a long
lens and a short lens because those two different things to accentuate
your size in the camera.
“To me the old ones look so
good that you almost want to keep that going so another 50 years from
now, these ones look as good as the ones that will be 100 years
From Klein’s shots, Rob Whalen, the executive
director of the Heisman Trophy Trust, will send a select few —
generally between 2-8 — to Dan Cunningham, art director at ESPN, who is
charged with building the environment for the ceremony.
It’s then up to Cunningham to decide which photo
will become the rendering we eventually see.
at the face … the smile means a lot,” he said. “I want to make sure
its the shot. It’s representative of what he’ll do
for the rest of his life.”
ESPN’s senior artists then
manipulate the image digitally, adding effects to it before cutting out
the headshot and placing it on a painted background. Finally, they crop
the images to ensue that, as Cunningham puts it “make sure the modern
day fits on a horizontal line with the
What once took McDonald’s company a year
to create is now accomplished in a few days.
the Heisman portraits have now gone digital, those images are even more
closely related to the past than just in their look and feel.
The original McDonald paintings were put in storage
after the Downtown Athletic Club was forced to close its doors in 2002,
its financial troubles escalating after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
They have since been photographed and reproduced to be used onstage,
while the portraits themselves remain locked
Like the Klein/ESPN artist creations,
everything we see during the ceremony is a really a
For Klein, one
image creates a stress all is own: when the winner holds the Heisman
Trophy for the first time — and getting it just right is
“That’s the most important Heisman
(ceremony) moment and the one that will forever be cemented in history,”
Klein is the only one taking photos during
the ceremony, with her images sent out to the photo services that
supply Web sites and newspapers around the world. Add in the uncertainty
of what the recipient will do with the trophy, and the weight of the
moment is undeniable.
“You have to be so prepared to
photograph that moment,” she said. “That’s a moment you have to be ready
for, not only for your equipment, but also mentally or else you’ll miss
While some winners have raised the award —
only to drop it down when they realize it weighs 25 pounds, creating
havoc for keeping a camera focused — Manziel, in particular, made life
all too easy on Klein.
“I think someone coached the
heck out of Johnny Manziel, because he literally stood there for 15
seconds with the thing,” she said. “I had so many photos I actually
stopped taking photos.”
stretch across four days; resulting in thousands of images a she follows
the candidates at events from their arrival in New York City on Friday
through the Monday night banquet.
Along with being
the only photographer in the ceremony, she’s also in the green room
before hand and has a vantage point that allows her to see a side of the
proceedings that few experience.
“It’s real, raw
emotions,” Klein said.
It was on display in 2009,
when winner Mark Ingram, in the moments before they took the Best Buy
Theater, walked over to Tim Tebow and admitted that he was
‘Tim was like ‘Well, let’s go over here and
pray,'” Klein recounted, and the two of the went into a corner of the
room and prayed together.
A year later, it was Cam
Newton, who dealt with his nerves in a different way — by lighting up
He sat on a couch with finalists LaMichael
James, Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore and “couldn’t stop smiling he was so
nervous,” Klein said, “and it made all the other guys smile, that
nervous kind of smile and they were all hunched up on this little tiny
couch in the green room all looking at each other
It’s the personalities that make the images
and as captivating as Newton was and as genuine as Ingram came off, no
winner had quiet the impact on Klein’s photography — and vice versa —
She admits she took a risk with Griffin,
the winner out of Baylor in 2011, who after receiving the trophy flashed
a pair of Superman socks complete with a cape hanging off the back.
Klein capitalized on it and had her assistant
purchase a costume, which they cut off of, along with a pair of $10
black-rimmed sunglasses with the lenses removed.
asked (Griffin) first ‘What do you think of this idea? Because we’ve
only got about 10 minutes to do it,” Klein said. “He said ‘I love it. I
love it. Let’s do it.'”
The result was a Clark Kent
of a QB in transformation, the Heisman in front of him, as Griffin wore
the sunglasses frames and the Superman costume under his dress
But even after the shoot was over, Griffin
didn’t entirely shed himself of his alter ego.
funny thing is, these glasses … my assistant got them for $10 in Times
Square. Well, he loved the glasses,” Klein
Griffin III: “He was so much fun. He totally lived in the moment.”
(Photo by Kelly
Griffin would wear the
frames to a photo shoot with university officials and VIPs and at that
night’s banquet — a white tie affair — he was still wearing them. They
stayed on his face throughout his speech and until Bears coach Art
Briles took them off so he could wear them when he spoke to the
“It all came from his personality,” Klein
said. “He was so much fun. He totally lived in the moment and wasn’t
afraid to be his own person and just have fun with
Klein’s job is, as she puts it, “to chronicle
the Heisman, and I feel very strongly about that. This is
In her own way, she has become a part of
that history, and the debut of Manziel’s portrait will be the latest
chapter. Klein has a place in the annals of the Heisman that is right
there, right in front of the eyes of millions, yet unbeknownst to
It’s a contribution to the trophy that is truly
hidden in plain sight.