“He is the Babe Ruth of photography,” said Chuck Soloman of Sports Illustrated. Sweet has earned the title, “Photography’s Grand Master” in a 2001 story for Vanity Fair, enhancing his international acclaim and recognition. He is indeed prolific: In a career spanning seven decades, Sweet has accounted for nearly 1,800 magazine cover credits. “You can’t duplicate what Ozzie does, because he’s the master,” says fellow sports photographer, Victor Baldizon.
Sweet began his career in the 1930s when he moved to California from New England to pursue a career in acting. During this time, Sweet found extra work as an apprentice to a Long Beach photographer. By the early 1940s, he had joined the Air Force, serving in communications at Camp Callan near San Diego and using the time to develop his photographic style. He began submitting photos to magazines and scored several cover credits in 1942 and 1943, including two for Newsweek.
Upon finishing his military duty in 1945, Sweet received a job offer from Newsweek. He went on to take memorable cover portraits of the likes of Albert Einstein, Ingrid Bergman, and baseball star Bob Feller. The Feller image attracted the eye of Sport magazine editor Ed Fitzgerald, who asked Ozzie to become his chief cover photographer.
For nearly two decades Sweet’s warm, impossibly detailed portraits of baseball legends Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax graced the covers of Sport. He also captured colorful close-ups of football’s John Unitas; basketball’s Oscar Robertson; hockey’s Bobby Hull; and boxing star Rocky Marciano. Legions of young Americans would razor Ozzie photos out of Sport and pin them up on their walls.
Sweet worked at a dizzying pace to produce covers for a never-ending stream of other publications. Name a magazine and he likely photographed its covers, from Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, Parents, and even Young Miss.
Now in his maturity and experience as an artist, Sweet has returned to baseball. The 2005 release of The Boys of Spring, written with Larry Canale, features 300 images taken at spring training from 1947 to present. An entire chapter is filled with images Sweet created during spring training tours in the past three years.
“His images are like Greek mythology: the players seem larger than life,” says Mark Durand of ESPN.