Leonard Ignelzi, famous AP photographer, dies at 74

SAN DIEGO, AP — Leonard Ignelzi, whose knack for being in the right place at the right time produced jaw-dropping images of Hall of Fame sports personalities, devastating wildfires and other major news during 37 years as a photographer for the Associated Press in San Diego, is dead. He was 74 years old.

Ignelzi died Friday in Las Vegas of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a condition associated with frequent strokes and other neurological problems, according to his wife, Bobbi.

Known as Lenny, he was a very versatile photojournalist whose greatest passions were sports and current affairs. Few, if any, attended more Padres baseball or Chargers football games, but he found new angles with every assignment until his retirement in 2016.

Ignelzi hid in bushes during a gunman’s assault on a McDonald’s restaurant in San Diego that killed 21 people in 1984. His footage from the US-Mexico border showed San Diego’s transformation from a towering corridor for illegal crossings to a fortress of walls and stadium lights. .

His indelible wildfire images include one of the amazed firefighters on a grassy plain in San Diego in 2003 as giant plumes filled the sky and advanced towards them. Ignelzi ran downhill to transmit from his car as phone towers in the area had been destroyed.

Some of his most memorable work was in sports: Tiger Woods’ even putt at the 2008 US Open that led to his epic victory, Magic Johnson celebrating with the original “Dream Team” at the Summer Olympics in 1992 and the careers of Tony Gwynn of the Padres. and Trevor Hoffman and the Chargers’ Dan Fouts.

In-depth knowledge, tireless work ethic and fierce determination have been the ingredients of his success. Sally Buzbee, editor of The Washington Post, said Ignelzi “had the best news instinct of anyone I’ve worked with.”

“He instantly knew what was important, how to chase it, how to get it, how to show it and how to tell it,” said Buzbee, who worked with Ignelzi as an AP correspondent in San Diego in the 1990s and served as AP’s editor from 2017 to 2021. “And he was incredibly, fabulously, competitive. I learned a lot just watching him work, seeing how he tackled the stories.

J. David Ake, associate editor and director of photography at the AP, echoed that sentiment. “More than just an amazing photographer dressed as a cigar smoker, he was one hell of a journalist. He knew his city, he knew the story, and he knew how to tell it with a camera,” Ake wrote to the staff. PA.

Ignelzi didn’t like that some of his best photos depicted human suffering.

“Maybe that’s why sports is a good thing, in that it’s more positive,” Ignelzi said in a career retrospective on San Diego’s KPBS-TV in 2014. “I mean , a team loses but that’s sport. It’s not the end of the world.”

Ignelzi was never shy about speaking his mind, especially if someone or something got in the way of a photo he wanted. Despite an occasionally gruff exterior, he was known for his generosity and kindness.

For decades, Ignelzi has hosted an annual golf tournament to raise funds for people with disabilities, inspired by a friend whose daughter has Down syndrome. Hoffman, the former Padres closest who signed photographs for the charity auction, said Ignelzi was always thinking of others.

Ignelzi keenly anticipated what might happen on and off the pitch. He captured a fight near the players’ garage in 2013 after he sensed a fight during a game between the Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers could lead to a postgame showdown.

Bruce Bochy, who played for the Padres and led the team from 1995 to 2006, said Ignelzi was a good friend with a deep knowledge of baseball. Ignelzi taught him to play golf.

“He hung out with me because he loved it and was a good golfer. He finally said to me, ‘I’m starting to think you can’t be coached,'” said Bochy, who led the San Francisco Giants to three World Series titles.

Fouts, the Chargers quarterback during the Air Coryell era in the 1970s and 1980s, recalled turning his middle finger toward Ignelzi while stretching in practice because he felt that his private life was invaded. Rick Smith, the Chargers public relations manager at the time, hung the momentous photo of Ignelzi in his office. Fouts and Ignelzi laughed it off later.

“The fact that it was such a special moment, not only for us players, but also for our fans and the city, and to have it recorded and saved by such a great photographer, makes it special,” Fouts said.

Ignelzi is survived by his wife, Bobbi, whom he met while working together at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and sisters Lucy Whiting and Rosemary Thuet and their families. He was predeceased by a brother, Joseph.

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