About 40 square feet was all photographer Vernon Biever needed to produce his magical work.
That darkroom of his, a roughly 5-by-8-foot area from his basement is being reconstructed by his youngest son, Jim, as part of the newest exhibit inside the Packers Hall of Fame entitled, “The Man Behind the Camera – The Life and Work of Vernon Biever.” The exhibit is scheduled to open on Friday.
“He always said about that darkroom that per square inch it turned out more photos than Time Life in New York City,” said Jim Biever, who has carried on the family tradition as the Packers’ team photographer. Vernon Biever’s association with the team began in 1941 and lasted for six decades.
“Tens of thousands of pictures have been put through that darkroom. From high school on, my brother and I worked in there, too.”
Jim’s brother, John, is a longtime photographer for Sports Illustrated who has covered all 46 Super Bowls. Vernon, who died two years ago at the age of 87, was on the sidelines for the first 35 Super Bowls and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2002.
The exhibit honoring the eldest Biever’s work will include several of his favorite photos, including Pete Rozelle’s presentation of the Super Bowl I trophy to Vince Lombardi. That trophy, of course, is now named for Lombardi, and Biever was the only still photographer in the locker room for that moment.
Another favorite is a 1961 shot of Lombardi’s famous power sweep taken at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, the first time the Packers ever played the Vikings. The photo includes guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading the way for fullback Jim Taylor as quarterback Bart Starr peels away after the handoff.
The pure beauty of the photo is seeing Lombardi in the distance on the opposite sideline, visible between Starr and Taylor, watching his masterpiece of a play at work.
“Dad always said you couldn’t have posed it just the way it was,” Jim Biever said. “That’s true of most sports pictures. They just happen. Luck plays into it, too. You have to be in the right place at the right time.”
The photos on display in the exhibit span 30 years of Biever’s work. The oldest is a 1954 shot from a Rams-Packers game in Milwaukee, while the most recent is a 1984 picture of a Packers-Cowboys game in Dallas in which Green Bay receiver Phillip Epps and Dallas defender Everson Walls are visually leaping in unison for a pass, with Epps trying to prevent Walls from intercepting it.
With some of his selections for the exhibit, guest curator Matt Foss said that he was trying to show how well Biever captured the “brutality” of football back in the day.
Among many on display, there’s a shot from the 1962 NFL title game in Yankee Stadium showing Taylor walking off the field nearly buckled over in pain and exhaustion. Taylor carried the ball 31 times, many of those into a tackle by the Giants’ fierce Sam Huff, in the Packers’ 16-7 victory on a 13-degree December day with 40-mile-per-hour winds.
The exhibit also will include a reconstruction of Biever’s “viewing station” at which he reviewed his own work via projector and screen while sitting on a stool. Even the ashtray and martini glass are there, too.
“It’s such an honor, not only for my family and my father’s legacy, but for all sports photographers all across the country,” Jim Biever said of the exhibit. “It honors all those guys who stand out in the rain and snow and come up with incredible pictures week after week.”
View a photo gallery of some of Biever's classic photos.
In 2009, Biever shared some of his favorite photos in the official Green Bay Packers Yearbook. See how he ranks his top 5 photos of all-time (PDF download).