Tennis Girl photographer dies after cancer battle

April 1, 2010

The photographer behind the famous ‘Tennis Girl’ photo of the 1970s, Martin Elliott, has died. He was 63.

Martin Elliott died last week after a 10-year battle with cancer, reports the Western Morning News.

Cornwall-based journalist Jeff Reines, who reported Martin’s death, told Amateur Photographer that the photographer’s widow, Noelle, is preparing to issue a formal statement on her husband’s death in the next few days.

Speaking to Amateur Photographer in 2007, Martin – who lived in Truro, Cornwall – explained how he captured the Tennis Girl photo on a tennis court at Birmingham University in the summer of 1976 ? using a Nikon camera and Kodak film.

The image attained iconic status when it was made into an Athena poster.

Though Martin did well from the photo he said it harmed his career for a while.

‘I didn’t want to come to London and companies in the Midlands thought I would be too expensive to hire, even though I wasn’t,’ he said.

The girl in the photo was the photographer’s then girlfriend, Fiona Butler, though many others later claimed to be the girl pictured, according to Martin.

Commenting on the photo in 2007, Martin told us: ‘Technically, it?s a good picture, but I had the luck of the Devil with the way it turned out. I was very pleased with the shot and offered it to Athena – who turned it down. So I took it to a picture library, and gave them strict instructions that it shouldn’t be used as a poster.

‘A week or so later the library called me, apologising that they had sold it as a poster with a calendar printed on it – and to Athena. The deal was only for a year, but Athena printed the poster again the next year with the next year’s date on it. They had already printed a warehouse full, but they didn’t have the rights. I had them over a barrel and was able to demand 10% royalties – which I got.

‘That original contract, for the first year, only paid £130, which I had to split with the library, but even the next year I didn’t trust the company to pay me properly. An ex-employee told me that Athena hated paying royalties!

‘Athena never owned the picture, though plenty of people still associate the company with it, so I still own it completely. It is still in demand too. I get at least one call a week about usage. In the summer, and during Wimbledon, I get a lot more.

‘It is strange how famous the picture has become – far more famous than me – and now it is one of the most reproduced photographs in the world.’

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