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Point of View: A photo essay of the 2023 season | Part II

Director of photography Michael Clemens shares his perspective from the sideline as he breaks down five of his favorite photos from the 2023 season.

Changing lives


Witnessing the moment when someone's life undergoes a profound transformation is a powerful and deeply human experience. It's like being granted a front-row seat to the unfolding drama of someone's destiny. The anticipation of the moment seemed to make time stop as the words "With the seventh pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders select..."

The player stands on the precipice of a life changing moment in those fleeting seconds before his name is called. One can almost feel the weight of his old life slipping away to make room for the new and uncharted territory that lies ahead. The emotions on display during such moments are raw and genuine – a mixture of joy, relief, vulnerability, and perhaps, a touch of fear.

At the 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City, I was positioned perfectly in front of the door where all the draft picks emerged when their names were called, but as luck would have it, the Steadicam operator decided to stand in front of me at the very moment Tyree Wilson walked out following his announcement as the Raiders' pick. Instead of the usual on-stage photo "moment" – since that one was taken from him (and me) – I followed Wilson as he jumped in with all the fans who were also witnessing this transformative time in his life. I always feel such a tremendous sense of responsibility of capturing this and every other "once in a lifetime" moments. I'm not sure how many people I may have knocked over running halfway across the draft floor, but I was NOT going to miss this one!

The arrival of Jimmy G


The arrival of a star football player to a new team is a moment of great anticipation and excitement, both for the fans and the entire organization. There is a mix of awe and enthusiasm, recognizing the arrival of a notable talent – especially a quarterback.

I had the privilege of tagging along with Jimmy Garoppolo on a tour of Allegiant Stadium the day he signed with the team. I had always been a fan of Jimmy as he's had nothing but success wherever he has played. I somehow became part "tour guide" on this day because I have been at the stadium so much and have learned quite a bit about Alleigant Stadium. As I was chatting with Jimmy and his family – between taking photographs – what I didn't expect was the tremendous respect and admiration I would gain of Jimmy as a person. The season didn't go quite as planned, but from day one 'til the end of the year, Jimmy was the most professional, kind, engaging, respectful, hard-working man. While I started out as a fan of his game, I ended the season a fan of the man. Whatever his role is in the future, I will continue to admire and root for his success.

"Born a Raider"


At the time of writing this, I don't know what the future will bring. I know Antonio Pierce has captured the hearts of Raider fans, the respect of the locker room, and embodies what is it to be a Raider. From his opening press conference when becoming the interim head coach to the last game of the season where he celebrated the fans as he walked off the field, A.P. brought back the style of football longtime Raider fans are accustomed to.

At the start of this season, I had a few graphics added to the walls of the stadium along the team's arrival path to make it more visually interesting versus the plain black wall that it had been since the first game in 2020. I really try not to plan what I'm going to shoot because I feel that's a recipe for missing other things if I'm single focussed on something specific. But this day was different. I WANTED this shot because A.P. embodies the Raiders, and before what could be his final game at the helm, I saw this image in my head the night before gameday. I was determined to get it. I've shot similar images throughout the season with players, but this was something that I felt was defining of the man, and I didn't know if I'd have another opportunity in the future. When Coach Pierce turned the corner, I was waiting (and had already taken what seemed like 483 practice shots of other people walking past that shield). I'm thrilled with the result as well as what that shot hopefully means to him.

Run to the light


It was my first time at Ford Field in Detroit for the Monday night game against the eventual NFC North Champion Detroit Lions. When you're in a new environment as a photographer, you really have to be on your toes because you can't anticipate quite as much. When shooting at home, or other stadiums that you've been to, you know when the lights go out or a certain time of day that produces nice shadows, etc. But in this new (to me) stadium, I didn't know what I was going to get.

The lighting was nice, even and consistent, and it was proving to be a great place to shoot. And then I saw it – during the Lions' introductions, the lights went out and a few giant spots illuminated the middle of the field where the Lions players would run through. As I looked around, I saw the always magical AJ Cole, but at this moment, he was even more "otherworldly." The bounce from the spotlight was illuminating him so perfectly that I sprinted (I use sprint loosely for a guy carrying a ton of camera gear) because this was not going to last long. As I was "running" over there, I tried to look for other elements to frame him with. I went all the way around so I could position the glow and pattern of the warm wall of suite lights and blue drenched fans behind him. The light lasted just long enough for me to get this shot, and as luck would have it (or the magic of AJ), he kicked the ball up to hover right in front of him at this very moment – magic!

I will be the greatest in the world…every single day


That is the phrase written on the whiteboard behind Maxx Crosby in his home office. Our video team was shooting a piece on Maxx so I took the opportunity to tag along to shoot a few portraits. It's no secret Maxx is one of the hardest working players in the entire league. He gives 100 percent on every single snap of the ball. It's quite amazing!

Being around a guy who is so dedicated, works so hard, never takes a play off, and is never satisfied tends to rub off on his teammates and so many around him...including me. Maxx is probably half my age, but his leading by example makes me want to be better, work harder, be "the greatest in the world…every single day." I knew this was the perfect place to photograph Maxx in his home, surrounded by things that remind him of greatness. The image has a "Godfather" feel, which is fitting since he's become the face and leader of this franchise. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to witness his relentlessness firsthand. I believe I'm a better photographer for it.

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