By Andres de Ocampo
A fundraising gala celebrating acclaimed professional sports photographers Andrew Bernstein and Jon SooHoo brought more than 100 attendees to the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena last week for an evening of drinks and stories highlighting the two veterans’ longtime careers.
Bernstein, a San Marino resident and 42-year official L.A. Lakers photographer, joined his friend and colleague SooHoo, a 38-year photographer for the L.A. Dodgers, at an event that displayed their renowned photos for a silent auction benefitting the South Pasadena Arts Council.
The event began at 5:30 p.m. and welcomed guests into the recently renovated comedy club to mingle and view the photos exhibited for auction, until a panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. brought the two photographers to the club’s Legendary Room stage.
The jovial discussion filled with stories and laughs about longtime vocations in professional sports was joined by former Lakers players and coaches Michael Cooper and Byron Scott, along with former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser, who now provides commentary on the games from the broadcast booth.
Some attendees were NBA and MLB fans of various backgrounds, some were friends of the two celebrated photographers; all of the attendees, however, were supporters of the event that allocated proceeds to three nonprofits — SPARC, Lakers Youth Foundation and the Dodgers Foundation.
Bernstein is a SPARC board member and said every year the nonprofit hosts a fundraiser but said this is the first event “at this scale.”
“Our fundraisers are a little bit more low-key. Someone usually donates their beautiful home and we do something that’s a little more grassroots. We kind of opened up and spread our wings here,” Bernstein said.
SPARC is an active nonprofit organization in the community that works with South Pasadena Unified School District schools through art program advocacy and scholarships for students, along with collaborations with the city and Chamber of Commerce on events like the South Pasadena Arts Crawl and Eclectic Music Festival.
Active SPARC and community members associated with the local nonprofit come from “all walks of life,” according to Bernstein. Though members’ professional backgrounds differ, SPARC all have their hand in the art world in some way and are driven by the love and promotion of the arts in South Pasadena, he said.
“There are many things throughout the year that keep us busy, but we enjoy doing it because we know we’re bringing awareness to the arts in South Pasadena,” he said about SPARC’s work, which also ties into his own involvement and motivation for being a SPARC board member.
“The board is a great opportunity for people, like myself, who want to give back to the community in some way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a long career but I’ve relied on mentors and people who have helped me along the way,” he said.
“We want to help young people in school, from K-12, we want to be a great outlet for artists to show their work. … It’s a commitment, we all have to take time to out of our lives to devote to helping SPARC grow.”
Throughout his 42-year career, Bernstein’s photography has been featured in thousands of newspapers and magazine covers worldwide featuring all-star NBA players in an up-close, candid way. He has amassed a list of accolades and awards and has worked on commercial projects with athletes for Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola and more.
Despite the many aspects of his lengthy and notable portfolio, Bernstein pointed to one project that stood out among the rest.
“The one piece of work that I can point to more than anything about my career … is the book I did with Kobe [Bryant] called ‘The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,’” he said.
The 208-page Bryant memoir was published in 2018 and describes Bryant’s personal outlook on life and dedication to his professional basketball career. The memoir is tied together with photos from Bernstein, which he said were taken over a 20-year period during Bryant’s professional career.
“It’s the thread between his legacy and the fans who love him so much, through his words and my photos,” he said.
“It was an amazing collaboration. I couldn’t have asked for a better subject to be in front of my lens for 20 years. Not only as a photographer/subject relationship, but as friends. We respected each other and I was as obsessed with my craft as he was with his craft.
“We bonded very, very early in his career and it was wonderful for me to document it. I literally took his first picture as a Laker and his last picture as a Laker and 20 years in between,” Bernstein said reflecting on his relationship with the basketball superstar.
Bernstein asked South Pasadena and surrounding communities, including San Marino, for their support of SPARC art projects and events.
SooHoo met Bernstein in 1983 as a recent graduate from USC. Upon establishing a bond as friends and professional sports photographers, SooHoo began to learn from Bernstein — who had already begun his career as an official photographer for the Lakers.
SooHoo continued building his photography portfolio and filled the position as the Dodgers’ official photographer in 1985; beginning his 38-year long career with the team, which he is still with today. Since then, SooHoo has captured memorable moments from numerous MLB players such as Barry Bonds and Kirk Gibson, while also creating acclaimed photos for the NFL and NBA.
SooHoo explained that Bernstein asked him to attend the fundraiser and share his experiences but said, “Usually, I’m shooting photos for these events. I’m never on this side of things. The fact that I’m holding something in my hand that’s not a camera is unusual.”
About his experience working with the Dodgers, SooHoo said, “It’s phenomenal.”
“It’s a dream job. To be given the access to do what I do — it’s phenomenal. There’s no limitations to do what I’m allowed to do. They give me the green light because they trust me. The players love it because I provide photos for their social media [accounts]… The whole platform is a wonderful existence,” he said.
SooHoo pointed to one of his favorite photographs available at the auction — an image of Dodger pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax walking down a hallway and conversing in 2015. Both Kershaw and Koufax are recognized as all-star MLB players and seen as two of the best pitchers of all time.
SooHoo highlighted one moment, among many, he captured during his career, which was Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics. The Dodgers would go on to win the 85th World Series, 4-1.
“I don’t plan on quitting unless someone makes me quit. … It’s a world all on its own. A world that nobody understands, except the people that are actually in it,” SooHoo said about being a professional team sports photographer.
“I know how blessed I am to be in it and I don’t take any moment for granted because it’s too precious. … It’s tremendous to see the generations [of players] go through,” SooHoo said in appreciation of growing with the Dodgers and other associates, like Bernstein, throughout his career.