When Paolo Pellizzari peers through his camera, he sees the big picture—literally. The Italian photographer shoots epic sports panoramas that sweep across the scene, capturing players and spectators alike at a scale beyond what the eye can take in.
Pellizzari grew fascinated by omniscient views while photographing the Tour de France 15 years ago and has pursued his passion to the ends of the earth. He’s covered everything from bike races in China to tennis matches in New York and Olympic events around the world. He likes sports, even if he admits he “doesn’t care who wins,” but is equally intrigued by the spectators. “I’m interested in human landscapes, and how crowds are like ecosystems,” he says.
The photographer shoots with a Noblex analog camera that offers a 140-degree field of vision—slightly wider than what the human eye typically sees. Pellizzari usually positions himself far from the action to take in as much of it as possible.
A classic example is his photograph of the final round in the men’s finn sailing at the 2012 Summer Games in London. It shows boats packed with photographers jockeying for position as Ben Ainslie won his fourth consecutive gold medal. Pellizzari’s position at the back of the scene heightens the narrative, giving each exquisite detail—swirling waves, looming clouds, frantic photographers—equal weight. “It’s like the stage of an opera,” Pellizzari says, “with all the singers, the diva, the music, the costumes, the action, the drama—not only the hero in action.”
When the hero does appear, he’s just another actor. Pellizzari captured Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha moments after he won gold at the 2012 Summer Games. In the photo, Rudisha faces the crowd with arms outstretched, but he’s not what attracts the eye. What catches your attention is the sea of photographers to the right, each intent on capturing the runner’s pose. The entire scene plays out on an enormous video screen in the background, and Pellizzari himself has a cameo.
Pellizzari can indulge his interest in reflective, sweeping shots because he’s no longer in the breaking news game. He develops his film and makes his prints long after the medals have been handed out. His photos aren’t historical documents, but a rich sociological study of how people come together to participate in something that provides them with some measure of identity.
Paolo Pellizzari’s photographs will be on view in Sport at Anastasia Photo in Manhattan until August 31.