Longtime Reuters photographer has enjoyed a front seat to history

Mike Blake covers the British Open. Photo/Reuters
Mike Blake covers the British Open. Photo/Reuters

By Rob LeDonne

It’s not hyperbole to say that Mike Blake has photographed virtually every event of cultural significance for the past 25 years. His lens has captured events as varied as the Super Bowl, Olympics, Oscars, Grammys, NBA playoffs, and the list goes on and on, all for the Reuters News Agency, a global news source that countless websites, newspapers, and TV stations rely on for images and information.

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Tiger Woods plays at Torrey Pines. Photo/Mike Blake

“There’s something about the human condition and the still picture,” he explained from his North County home. “You really don’t see an event until you look at a picture of it.”

Reuters, which was first started in the 1800s by Paul Julies Reuter who used carrier pigeons to let people know when ships would come in, is now, as Blake explains it, a “global news service, so we always look at stories from a world perspective.” That means as a senior photographer for Reuters Blake dashes up and down the West Coast covering whatever the rest of the world would be interested in. Originally, however, Blake was taking pictures of him and his friends skateboarding as a kid growing up in Toronto, Canada: “That’s how I got into photography. After taking some classes in high school, I went to art school but dropped out because I didn’t want to learn the whole foundation of painting and drawing — all I wanted to do was take pictures.”

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Lindsey Vonn competes in the World Cup. Photo/Mike Blake

Blake soon found himself at Reuters, where he started in the late 1980s. After moving from Toronto to Vancouver, Blake wound up in Southern California thanks to his wife who works in the music industry.

“California is very interesting,” said Blake. “It’s a driver of so many cultures; lots of things start in this state. It’s fascinating to watch the culture here.”

Over the years, Blake’s pictures of life in Southern California and around the country — from Tiger Woods winning the Masters, Lady Gaga’s meat dress, and this past year’s Grammys and Oscars — have wound up everywhere from the front pages of websites, magazines, books, and on television.

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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Photo/Mike Blake

“As any photographer will tell you, sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t,” Blake explains, and one particular night when everything went his way occurred in 1998 during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City.

“Michael Jordan (as a member of the Chicago Bulls) stole the ball with 9 seconds left to win the game, and he happened to be right in front of me, directly lined up with the basket so I got some great shots there. After the game, I was there when they were giving speeches, and then followed him to the locker room when they were spraying champagne everywhere, so I thought I had some amazing pictures and went to run back to send everything in. As I was walking down an arena hallway to leave, I see him and his mother hugging and took more shots. Everything just clicked.”

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The Rolling Stones perform in Anaheim. Photo/Mike Blake

Aside from cultural and sporting events, Blake sometimes goes on dangerous assignments as well. This past April, he went on a ride-along with authorities on the United States/Mexican border, which Blake says was eye opening.

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