texasmonthly.com: When did Texas Monthly art director Scott Dadich first approach you with the idea of photographing the Olympic hopefuls? What was your initial reaction?
Michael O’Brien: At the beginning of May. I thought it was a wonderful project. I love photographing people, especially exemplary people like these athletes.
texasmonthly.com: Had you done much sports photography in the past?
MO: I’ve been doing photography for thirty years and I’ve done everything. Action-sports photography is not my forte, but Scott and I decided to do portraits of the different athletes that would surprise and be unexpected.
texasmonthly.com: What do you mean when you say “surprise”?
MO: We photographed Steven and Diana Lopez but not at the tae kwon do studio. [Diana is an alternate on the Olympic team and not pictured in the magazine.] Instead associate photography editor Leslie Baldwin found this terrific low road by a reservoir, and there was a view of a beautiful, clear horizon. We took them someplace where you’d never expect to see them in their tae kwon do uniforms.
texasmonthly.com: How familiar were you with the careers of the athletes before this assignment?
MO: Well, not very because I’m not a sports buff. I like to meet people and react to them on a very personal basis without having known the whole history of their careers. In fact, it wasn’t until I was making the last picture of Steven Lopez that I found out that he won a gold medal in the previous Olympics. I said, “I would have been much more humble had I known that.” I might do a search on the Web to find pictures of what they do that will give me visual ideas. I like to talk to them about their workouts, the stress of trying out for the Olympics, and the challenges they’re facing. That’s always fun.
These people were, for the most part, very generous with their time, in particular Laura Wilkinson, whom we photographed down at the Woodlands Athletic Club, in the Woodlands, where she trains. Laura works out on the ten-meter board, and my assistant Michael Hartung and I had to figure out how to get about 150 pounds of photo equipment up three stories. When you’re carrying 35-pound sandbags up a tiny ladder, you realize you’re challenged. Laura looked at us and asked if she could help us carry some stuff. Usually with a subject, particularly a celebrated athlete like Laura Wilkinson, who won a