Al Bello '89 and Chris Cassidy '89: Magic Through a Lens
One came from Long Island, the other from Brooklyn. Both were athletes who loved the grit and energy of team sports. Both played Stony Brook football from 1985 to 1989, and one played lacrosse as well. And, for both, the turning point in their lives came from a single undergraduate class they took in studio photography.
Photography? That’s right.
Today the two former linebackers – Al Bello and Chris Cassidy – have made names for themselves in careers related to that class: Al is an award-winning sports photographer who has covered the Olympics nine times, and Chris is a documentary filmmaker whose latest film was produced by Keanu Reeves.
Bello: A Career in Sports Photography
“When I came to Stony Brook, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Bello, chief sports photographer for Getty Images in North America who shoots national and international events such as the Olympics, U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the Stanley Cup, the World Series, world title boxing matches, World Cup Soccer and the Super Bowl. “I wanted to play football, get a good education, and make some friends.”
He met Chris on the football team during his freshman year when both were linebackers playing for legendary Stony Brook coach Sam Kornhauser. It was a Division III team back then. The players played hard, often over their heads, but they won more than they lost.
“The coaching staff cared about us,” Bello says. “I think that went a long way with the players. We were here to learn, as well as to play. Coach Kornhauser was very good to me. We’re friends today.”
Bello and Cassidy took pictures of each other for class assignments. “A bell went off in my head,” says Bello. “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
His first photography job was with the local Stony Brook newspaper, The Three Village Herald. After graduation, he worked as a darkroom boy for The Ring magazine, shooting boxing and wrestling matches and developing the photos. The job at The Ring came about through Cassidy’s father, world-rated professional boxer “Irish” Bobby Cassidy.
From there Bello moved to Los Angeles to accept a job as junior photographer with Allsport, which was later bought by Getty Images. Today Bello travels around the world covering events for Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times, and other venues. He also shoots commercially for companies such as Nike and the Discovery Channel. Recently he shot underwater footage of the swimming, water polo, diving, and synchronized swimming competitions at the Olympics in London, using computer technology to set up, trigger and fire shots from outside the pool.
Bello has won awards from agencies including World Press Photo, The Boxing Writers Association, The Football Hall of Fame, The Baseball Hall of Fame, and The International Olympic Committee. His job has given him the opportunity to bring his family – wife, Debbie, of 18 years, 15-year-old daughter Nicole and 12-year-old son Daniel – around the world with him on assignments.
“I love what I’m doing,” says Bello. “Football actually had a lot to do with it. Football was all about discipline and learning what it takes to achieve a goal.”
Cassidy: Shooting Award-Winning Documentaries
“I had the photography bug very young,” says Cassidy, who creates documentary films and music videos as well as still photography for clients such as Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and Rolling Stone. “I picked up my father’s camera on vacation when I was eight. And then I started going to concerts with my mother and bringing my father’s camera with me. When I was 14 years old I saw the Rolling Stones and Van Halen with my mother and I shot about 30 rolls of film.”
Cassidy shot Van Halen again at age 16 from the second row at Madison Square Garden, and during his whole senior year in high school he made money selling the photos to his classmates.
“I knew I wanted to do something in photography,” he says, “but I still wanted to play sports.”
At Stony Brook he played not only football, but lacrosse as well. The football program was young, and he knew he’d get a chance to play.
“My decision to come to Stony Brook came down to Sam Kornhauser convincing me that I’d play sooner here than at the other schools that recruited me,” says Cassidy. “I did, and I don’t regret one second of it.”
He took the photography class with Al Bello and a few other photography classes that the University offered. After graduation he found an entry-level job in New York City with a commercial photographer. Cassidy then moved into cinematography, shooting some 30 music videos, many of which have been shown on MTV. His short documentaries have been screened in film festivals all over the world and aired on television’s Independent Film Channel (IFC) and MTV; he directed the MTV World Aids Day Film Festival Grand Prize winner in 1999. He has also created three feature-length documentaries.
His latest accomplishment is Side by Side, a documentary about the current film industry debate on the use of traditional film versus digital cinematography. The movie was produced by Keanu Reeves and directed by Chris Kenneally. Cassidy was Director of Photography on the project.
“This is probably the most meaningful project I’ve worked on yet,” says Cassidy. “We traveled around the world and interviewed the biggest names in the business: Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch. We talked to cinematographers, movie producers, and directors, and we got their opinions about this change. I think we just made a very important film that will be referenced for a long time. we’re at this pivotal moment where things are changing in Hollywood."
His work has screened at dozens of festivals domestically and abroad. Chris just finished shooting Side By Side, a documentary about the science, art, and impact of digital cinematography. Side By Side was produced by Keanu Reeves and world premiered at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival and made its North American premiere at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.
VIEW SIDE BY SIDE TRAILER:
By Toby Speed