On Friday, June 10, the cycling and sports world lost one of its great photographers. Doug Pensinger passed away unexpectedly at home in Colorado with his wife, Bettyann, by his side.
The bio page on Doug's website gives a brief overview of his extensive photography career. He began as a 15-year-old freelancer at a newspaper in his home state of Pennsylvania back in 1980. He quickly rose through the photography ranks while attending Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. After working beside President Ronald Reagan's press pool he launched a freelance career in Washington,D.C., and worked for such titles as the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Through connections made in D.C., Doug then ended up working for the Army Times Publishing Company. Doug took on assignments during the invasion of Panama, the first Gulf War, Bosnia and Somalia before finally taking on freelance sports assignments for Allsport Photography.
By 1998 he had left the Army Times and began shooting sports full-time before his position transferred into a staff position with Getty Images, which had acquired Allsport. With Getty Doug traveled the world to cover major sporting events, including many times each of the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby, the Olympic Games and the championships for soccer, baseball and hockey, just to name a few. Doug was an avid cyclist himself – his love for the sport never faded – so the Tour de France was always one of his favourites.
I met Doug around 2004 at the Tour de Georgia. The event had grown and big names were coming from Europe to race it, so along came Doug. I had no idea who the guy was, but we quickly became friends because we could work hard together all day and party just as hard once the work was done; I tried my best to keep up. After long days of working off the back of a moto side by side, and then being kicked out of bars together later that night, I knew we'd be longtime friends.
While I didn't know Doug's extensive photography background, I also didn't know how much I would learn from him over the years. I learned a lot from Doug about being a photographer, but I also learned about being a friend and a father.
As I got to know Doug, I appreciated his work ethic and professionalism. He worked harder than anyone to get “the shot.” Not only did he end up getting the shot he wanted, but he also represented a huge company that distributed his shots around the world. He made all of this look easy, and so I thought I must be doing things wrong. Unknowingly, he pushed me to become better. He opened my mind to a sense of creativity that I hadn't had before. And although I had already been around for several years, he opened my eyes to a beauty that I hadn't seen in the sport.
The other side of Doug that I learned was his balance of work and home. Being on the road is hard. Being away from loved ones is hard. But somehow he managed that and, again, made it look easy. We'd talk about our wives and he'd humbly brag about his daughter, Devan. They were best friends and through him I could feel the love they all shared from afar. When he got home he'd get them off to a concert, a mountain bike ride or camping trip. Truly someone to look up to.
One time I tried to tell him how good I thought his work was and he wasn't hearing it. He came back at me with how great my work was and how he looked at my pictures to see what he could do different. I still think he was full of sh*t, but it taught me to keep my head down and keep putting out my best work; Doug was watching. He became someone I looked up to and wanted to make proud.
Doug has been published in too many places to mention. He's delivered thousands and thousands of images over the years. Many of the iconic photos that cycling fans fawn over have been Doug's without them knowing it. Working for an agency, you don't always become the big name in a single sport like other photographers have. Doug never cared about that anyway, except maybe to gain the respect of his peers. He was there to document history and evoke emotions for a sport that we all love, that he loved.
Those of us who knew him are heartbroken. Personally, I will miss our chats on the road, our comparing of who got what photo at the end of the day and beers over dinner. I'll miss his work and the beautiful photos he gave us. I'll miss his big smile and kind heart.
After riders cross the finish line, after the podium ceremony is finished and the noise subsides, I will walk with a heavy heart to the press room and save a chair for my friend, Doug Pensinger.
More tributes can be found on the Remembering Doug Pensinger Facebook page.