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University of Missouri

Sealed With a Kiss

Mizzou defeats Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Mizzou Cotton Bowl Victory Michael Sam

Ben Walton, an MU photojournalism student working for Mizzou Athletics, made this photo of senior defensive end Michael Sam, a 2013 All-American and All-SEC selection, as he kisses the Field Scovell Trophy awarded to the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic champions. The Tigers defeated former Big 12 Conference foe Oklahoma State 41-31 Jan. 3, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Sam announced Feb. 9 he is gay, three months before the NFL Draft begins May 8.

MIZZOU magazine asked MU photojournalism student Ben Walton about his work:

Q: This photo was the pinnacle moment of the 2013 season for the Tigers. How, if at all, has Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay affected the impact of the photograph?

A: The photo represented an important moment in this football season. All the hard work put into finding success in the SEC finally resulted in the sweet victory over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.  Michael was a huge part of that success. He helped lead the Tigers to a 12-win season, an SEC East Championship and the Cotton Bowl trophy. His announcement brought some more attention and relevance to the image because of the magnitude of his story, but to me the photo still represents the success of a great football team.

Ben Walton photography

Memorial Stadium is visible below during the first quarter of Florida-Mizzou Oct. 19, 2013.

Q: You photograph a diverse set of sports in your work for Mizzou Athletics. Does your approach to these different events change or does it stay the same?

A: My approach typically stays the same from event to event. I try to tell the story of the event by capturing critical moments in a visually unique way. It’s a constant challenge to do this without repeating the same images every event. I think it’s important to challenge yourself to always make new and fresh images and try things you’ve never tried before. Take risks. It’s a lot of work and effort to do this, but it’s always fulfilling.

Ben Walton photography

Mizzou forward Laurence Bowers, BA ’12, M Ed ’13, hitches a wagon ride while visiting a Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital the day before the March 2013 SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

Q: What brought you to Mizzou to study photojournalism?

A: The MizzouRec. Just kidding. I had narrowed my college search to Baylor and Mizzou. A majority of my family went to Baylor, and it was only an hour drive from where I grew up in a suburb of Dallas. It came down to which school would benefit me more in the future and which one had the better academics for what I wanted to study — journalism. Mizzou has one of the best J-Schools in the country, so I decided moving to Columbia was best. Four years later, this Texas boy has yet to adjust to the cold Midwestern winters.

Ben Walton photography

Senior gymnast Mackenzie McGill performs her beam routine at the Hearnes Center during an Arkansas-Mizzou meet Jan. 17, 2014.

Q: If you could photograph any sporting events in the world, which ones would you pick and why?

A: World Cup Soccer, the Summer Olympic Games and the World Series. All three carry enormous emotion and team spirit. The World Cup and the Olympics have the patriotic attraction of entire countries competing against one another. And growing up as a huge Texas Rangers fan, baseball has always been a passion of mine.

Ben Walton photography

Tiger guard Kim English, BGS ’12, maneuvers beneath the hoop and around a pair of Jayhawks during the final Big 12 Conference game between Mizzou and Kansas at Mizzou Arena Feb 4, 2012.

Q: What were the most important things you learned while interning at Sports Illustrated?

A: The most important thing I learned, beyond how the largest sports magazine in the country functions, was the networking opportunities apparent in New York’s photography and magazine industries. I also learned a lot about the business side of major magazines and the balance of creating great content while tailoring that content to advertisers and readers who can help generate profit.

Ben Walton photographer

A University of Oklahoma baton twirler performs during halftime of the Sept. 24, 2011, Mizzou-Oklahoma football game.

Q: Being a huge Mizzou fan as well as a photographer, is there ever a point in a big game where you wish you could put down the camera and just be a fan?

A: Absolutely! It’s very difficult not to snap into “fan mode” every once in a while. I do it quite often, actually. I think it’s healthy to be a fan now and then. Sometimes on the sidelines of big games I’ll put my camera down and remind myself that I’m pretty lucky to be doing what I’m doing. Deep down, I’m just a sports fan like everyone else. I’ve gotten a front row seat to a lot of historic Mizzou events, and I have had the opportunity to document them the best way I can.

Ben Walton photography

High school cross-country runner Andrew Walton, the photographer’s younger brother, runs a trail at sunset in the Colorado mountains.

Q: If you could chart your career path for the next five years, what would it look like?

A: I would earn a full-time job at Sports Illustrated right out of college. However, I’m open to a variety of paths, and I’m interested in exploring different mediums. For example, I would love to do more video and commercial sports work. Five years from now, I am not sure where I will be or what I’ll be doing, but I know it’s going to be a really fun ride.