Michael Wilson was the professional section winner of the inaugural Women in Sport Action Photo Awards (WISPAA) in 2019 and his photo ‘The Kick’ of AFLW star Tayla Harris made waves across the sporting world.
The head of photography and chief photographer of the AFL didn’t realise the attention his photo would create.
The image of Harris was fiercely defended after initial trolling on social media, was widely shared online and printed on T-shirts. A silhouetted version was even used by the AFLW as an unofficial logo and by Tayla herself.
“I didn’t think at the time that a picture like that, what an amazing action picture it is, would have the ramifications that it went on to have. At the time I thought it was an amazing picture of an elite female footballer just going about her business. An incredible picture of athleticism; the elevation and leg extension. It’s just got it all as far as an action picture,” Wilson said.
“It went on to define a lot more. It became a symbol for standing up to online bullying and taking a stance against sexism in sport. I didn’t think it would have that meaning to it, but it became a symbol for all that. To have my name associated with that picture is very humbling and the fact it has such a meaning not only in football but the broader community, it’s really humbling to be responsible for that image.”
Louise Evans, creator of the WISPAA, journalist and director of Women Sport Australia describes the photo as “beautiful, inspirational and a memorable winner.”
“This image was chosen as the professional winner of the inaugural WISPAA competition because it perfectly captures the essence of women in sport performing at the highest level,” Evans said.
“It takes you into the mindset of AFLW player Tayla Harris and on a journey of skill, athleticism, power and determination. It captures that sweet moment in sport when everything falls into place, when amid all the drama and noise an athlete executes the perfect play.”
Wilson’s journey started a little different to other photographers, starting out as a graphic designer.
“Photography was always part of the core subjects of my graphic design degree, so I always had the skills and I am talking mid 90s when there was film and the dark room, I learnt traditional way,” Wilson said.
“I worked as a graphic designer around Melbourne and overseas for a period of time, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I wanted to get serious and transition into photography.”
Taking a leap of faith by purchasing photography equipment and dedicating his time to sports photography, Wilson got his break in 2005.
“I shot an Essendon intra-club trial in ‘05. I emailed some pictures to club, they really liked them and asked me to go back the following week. I met their media manager who offered me a photographer pass for the year and that was my foot in the door.”
“I managed to build a folio of actual elite level AFL images. I was able to network and meet different people. A few doors opened and when the AFL brought the photos contract back internally, a position with the AFL opened up in 2008 and that’s when I started with the organisation,” the Melburnian said.
“I was determined to get where I wanted to. Everyone’s path is different, there’s no right or wrong way to get to where you want to be. Mine was long winded and the roundabout way of getting to where I wanted.”
After over a decade in the industry, Wilson is very passionate about his job and the opportunities that he is presented with in each game.
“I love knowing that anything can happen in any given time during a match. That anticipation for an unexpected moment keeps you on your toes. To be able to capture that significant moment, an image that becomes a symbol for something or becomes iconic. You can’t describe that feeling as a photographer. It is a great satisfaction knowing that you were ready for that chance and nailed it. It doesn’t come along that often,” Wilson said.
Capturing an iconic moment is just what Wilson did with his winning WISPAA entry. He is proud to be the inaugural recipient and believes the competition is important for women’s sport.
“Being the inaugural winner was a huge honour. The competition is unique in that it recognises women in sport and portrays them in an athletic manner, which I love,” Wilson said.
“We don’t see enough action photos of our female athletes. For too long they haven’t been correctly portrayed in the media, there’s always been the static portrait shot. These women are amazing athletes and being able to show their athletic prowess photographically is long overdue.”
WISPAA entries for 2020 closed on 31 May, stay tuned for the announcement of finalists later this month.
Story: Daniel Hill, WSA Content Creator