Mike lets us in on his dealings with MXA back in the day.
Mike lets us in on his dealings with MXA back in the day.
Hi everyone, from the late 80s through the mid 90s I was a contributing photographer for Hi-Torque Publications (MXA and Dirt Bike magazine). The photos that you see here were never published and have been stored as 35mm slides for the last 15-20 years. A month or so ago, I finally got around to purchasing a quality scanner and the journey began, going through these images has been a revelation, as I haven’t looked at any of them since I put them away and had only seen them as tiny little 35mm slides. Scanning them, then seeing the images on a computer screen has been like seeing them for the first time, they stir up lots of great memories, and bring back a great era for motocross, lots of bright color, big characters and of course, some true legends of the sport.I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I have -Mike Sweeney
Back when MXA ruled the motocross magazine world it was a pretty cool thing to be shooting photos for them. As we discussed in Motocross Captured #15, I had just started shooting AMA Nationals in 1989, the photos I took at Southwick that year were sent to MXA-Dirt Bike with a letter which I followed up with a phone call a few weeks later, they liked what I sent and I was on my way so to speak. Later in 1989 I landed my first published photo, which I got paid a whopping $50 for, it was a shot of Guy Cooper and Jeff Emig jumping out of Gravity Cavity, Jeff is about to land, and Guy is WFO panic revving trying to get the rear end to drop, I can still hear that CR125 to this day. We’ll have to run that photo in a week ahead it ran as a table of contents photo in Dirt Bike.
Anyways, Southwick was the first race I was able to shoot in 1990, the first few nationals were too far away and I couldn’t afford to fly out. Luckily the guys at MXA had liked my photos so they set me up with press passes for any race I wanted to cover, unfortunately I had to cover my own expenses, travel, film, processing, etc… and it wasn’t cheap so I was limited to which races I could cover.
Back in the film days I would purchase 15-20 roles of 36 exposure film to cover 1 race, that gave me a maximum of 720 exposures to make for the entire race. These days guys take more than that in practice! In 1990 a roll of Fuji or Kodak slide film went for around 6 bucks, and processing the film in an expedited fashion (2 day turnaround) cost about 7 bucks per roll. So, film and processing costs for a race would set me back up to $260.00, not cheap in 1990.
It’s cool, though, I was working for MXA and they were rolling in money, all I needed to do was land a few pages of photos and I was in the money …or so I thought.
Getting back to the race, I had a great time, shot a ton of good photos, got them back from the processor, edited the slides down from 700 or so to 120 or so of the best (if I got 2 really good shots per roll of film I considered that a pretty good average), and packaged them up and sent them on the way.
1990 was well before e-mail so most of our correspondence was via the old land line, so, after I packaged everything up I called up Jody or whoever and told them I had a package of photos on the way. I would place the slides in chronological order in those clear vinyl notebook sized sheets, they held 5 rows of 4 slides each. On each slide I would stamp my name, and print the date, the location and some pertinent info, especially if there was something out of the ordinary about the photo.
I distinctly remember getting a phone call from Jody about a week after I had sent everything, he was pretty stoked on the photos and told me he would definitely use something. A couple of weeks later in mid August I called them up to make sure I was good to go for Broome-Tioga which was in early September. While I had them on the phone I asked if they were able to use anything and Jody told me, yes, I was going to get some full pages and maybe even a cover.
I was pretty stoked, but didn’t hear another word for a couple more weeks, I think it was end of August or so, Jody called me up again and told me congratulations, they were using my photo of Guy Cooper on the cover of MXA and they were also running a couple of full page color shots inside. Getting full page color shots was a pretty big deal, back then the magazines were only partially color and still ran a bunch of black and white photos, so I was counting the money in my head figuring, “man, I can’t wait to get that check!”
A few weeks later a package arrived, it had a half dozen or so issues of the magazine and a check in an envelope, I remember ripping open the check opening it and seeing that it was for…
It broke down to 3 full pages including the cover at $50 each and 25 bucks for a small black and white photo. I thought it had to be a mistake, so I called them up and said, hey, I just opened the check up and I think there’s a mistake, you guys only paid me $50.00 for the cover photo and for the full page shots.” Jody (or whoever, I can’t remember who I spoke to on this one) assured me that it was most definitely not a mistake, that’s the going rate and you should be honored to have your photo on the cover of MXA!
Well, I was pretty stoked about the photo, I was also pretty disappointed in the check. I told myself, hey, you’re still new to the game, you’re shooting pictures of your heroes and you’re getting paid for it, it’s not that bad.
I wound up soldiering on shooting for MXA for another 4 years or so, every race losing money and every race having a ball, the checks never got better, it was always a “you need us way more than we need you kind of deal” so I eventually moved on to other things. Another thing to note, back then the magazines wouldn’t cover every race, they’d lump the east coast races together and do a wrap up, so a single issue would have photos from 3-4 races, it made it really hard to get published and left a ton of my photos unpublished.
Looking back on it I realize that I made one critical error, I didn’t make many copies of the photos I sent in and unfortunately all of my best work is either buried in a box somewhere at Hi-Torque, or long gone. Luckily I did make a few copies, including this shot of Guy Cooper WFO on his factory RM125 on his way to winning the national championship, my first cover!
I hope you enjoy this weeks MXC, thanks for reading.