Jean-Pierre Durand at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (© Giancarlo Colombo)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Jean-Pierre Durand, one of the sport’s most prolific photographers, died on Tuesday (19) at the age of 66.
A familiar friendly figure at athletics events for the past four decades, Durand was hugely respected and admired by fellow photographers, journalists, event organisers, athletes and fans for his work and dedication.
His career began in 1981, when he joined a local weekly newspaper, and after shooting a range of sports he decided to focus on athletics. While he covered numerous Olympic Games and World Athletics Championships during his career, Durand would also enjoy capturing the action at smaller meetings as he worked as a freelance photographer, regularly supplying images to World Athletics and publications such as L'Équipe.
Not only would he work behind the lens for World Athletics, but he was also the photo chief for a number of World Athletics Series events, including the World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019 and the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Kampala in 2017, plus the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas in 2015 and 2017 and in Yokohama in 2019.
Earlier this year he covered the Olympic Games in Tokyo and then just a few days later travelled to Kenya for the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi.
“I was very sad to learn of the passing of Jean-Pierre Durand. He was a real gentleman and it was a pleasure to work with him,” said France’s 2012 Olympic pole vault champion Renaud Lavillenie. “He would always come to talk to me at competitions – something really nice, especially when I was younger in a big event far from home – and I'd always receive my photo from him in the evening.
“We will miss you Jean-Pierre, my condolences to his family."
Sharing some memories for L'Équipe, journalist Marc Ventouillac wrote: “There is not a single photographer from L'Équipe who, arriving at an athletics competition, did not ask if Jean-Pierre Durand was there.
“He particularly liked going to cover meetings in Germany because he took the opportunity to go hunting in photo fairs where he made a point of discovering a rare pearl to enrich his Leica collection.
“Jean-Pierre was above all a warm, brotherly, convivial man, who liked to tell stories around a good beer, the foam of which sometimes moistened his legendary moustache.”
Also among those to pay tribute was former French high jump record-holder turned journalist Maryse Ewanje-Epee, who wrote: “A key figure in the French athletics landscape. Jean-Pierre did all the big events and the small ones too. How many times have I shared a beer, a laugh, with the man with the moustache. May the Earth be light to you, comrade.”
Given his great experience and knowledge, Durand inevitably became a mentor to photographers aspiring to follow in his footsteps.
“Jean-Pierre was an amazing and very talented photographer who showed an incredible amount of kindness towards young photographers,” said fellow French photographer Solene Decosta. “He encouraged us to dare and opened many doors for so many of us. We will miss him a lot, track events won’t be the same without JP."
While photographer and videographer Dan Vernon wrote: “Such sad news to hear of the passing of JP, he dedicated so much of his life to athletics. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with him especially this last year. He was always ready with advice and a good telling off if you needed it. A wonderful man who will be sorely missed.”
Sharing memories of Durand, photographer Pascal Rondeau added: "Jean-Pierre was a first class example of what I refer as the true sport specialist. I never actually saw Jean-Pierre shooting or talking about any other sports other than athletics.
"He had very deep knowledge on every aspect of our sport and sharp journalistic skills. The 400m loop had no secret for him and it will be a very sad and strange feeling for many of us to no longer cross his path on a field of play somewhere."
British photographer Mark Shearman, who has been capturing athletics action since 1962, said: "I was devastated to hear that my long-time friend JP had died. We had worked together at four Olympic Games and many world and European championships, indoors and outdoors.
"His dedication to the sport, his professionalism and friendship will be sorely missed by me and many others in athletics. RIP JP."
Another of Durand's colleagues and friends, Italian photographer Giancarlo Colombo, said: "Two of the things that I will remember with pleasure about Jean-Pierre are his calm temper and his inner strength.
"I met him over 30 years ago and during such a long period of time spent together on the athletics fields of the world, it happened that we had the luck to share many good memories but also some bad moments. One of these in particular made me reflect a lot.
"We were in Rio for the Olympic Games of 2016 and as usual we were the last people leaving the Olympic Stadium after the evening session. We were both quite tired after the long day and I was also quite angry because we couldn’t find transport to get back to our hotel. While I was in this state of mind, Jean-Pierre tried to calm me down, highlighting that during our lives we had both encountered many obstacles, but the fact that we were both in Rio at that moment was a sign that we were able to overcome them all. After that moment, we continued speaking about our lives and at the end of the day, when I was in my hotel room alone, I realised what a kind heart he had. The more I think about the memories I have with him, the more I can confirm it."