“For me, the single word that best sums him up as a photographer is ‘bold’ ” -Philip B. Kunhart, Jr., editor, Life magazine describing Co Rentmeester

Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester was a medal-winning rower who competed in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He placed fifth. He completed his degree and went to work for Life magazine in 1965 moving to a staff position the following year. He continued with Life until it ended in 1972. One of his early assignments was covering the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

Co Rentmeester in Vietnam with a motorized Nikon F camera.
Co Rentmeester in Vietnam with a motorized Nikon F camera.

Vietnam

He covered the Vietnam War. His photograph of a tank gunner was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year award (upper right corner above.) It was the first color photograph to win the honor. He was wounded by a sniper a few months after making his award-winning picture.

Sports

During his time and after Life, he worked for Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Stern, The New York Times Magazine. He earned Magazine Photographer of the Year snd Best Sports Picture in 1972, His photo of premature babies was featured on the last cover of Life as it closed in May of 2000 after its second incarnation. He earned a Lucie award as the 2018 Honoree for Achievement in Sports.

Nike icon “Jumpman”

Co Rentmeester made the photograph of basketball great Michael Jordan that most likely gave birth to the “Jumpman” logo for Air Jordan merchandise (upper left corner above.)

Nike paid Rentmeester $150 for two years use and then another $15,000 in 1985. Air Jordan launched in 1987. In 2013 Forbes said Air Jordan generated $1.75 billion every year with Michael Jordan earning $60 million annually. Of course, Rentmeester filed a copyright infringement suit. The copyright suit went to the Supreme Court who refused to hear it. A lower court ruled that the idea of a jump shot could not be copyrighted. Nike got billions. Rentmeester received $15,150.

Works

Rentmeester has had his work exhibited and published in books including Three Faces of IndonesiaHolland on Ice and FootprintsThe first two are out of print and I found a copy of Footprints on Amazon for $811.

Rentmeester has returned to rowing. He coaches high school student in the art and discipline of sculling. He helps them get scholarships for their higher education.

Biographical information from the Lucie Awards.

Read more mini-biographies of influential photographers on Photofocus.