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Iooss brings iconic Jordan photography to outdoor Field exhibit

Walter Iooss' Jordan photos will be on display through Sept. 8 near the Field Museum's north entrance. Jon Greenberg/ESPN

CHICAGO -- For about 12 years, sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr. had the easiest semi-regular assignment in the world.

He took pictures of Michael Jordan.

“How do you take a bad picture of him?” Iooss said Friday evening at the Chicago Field Museum. “It’s the truth. I almost have no pictures where he looks bad. He never flinched when a camera was near him because he knows everyone is looking at him every second he’s anywhere.”

Iooss took famous actions shots, portraits and even casual shots of Jordan in hotel rooms across the country for Sports Illustrated, and in 1993 published a collection called “Rare Air: Michael on Michael.”

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Jordan’s rookie season, Iooss set up a free outdoor exhibit of his best Jordan work near the north entrance of the Field Museum, overlooking the city. It's called "Open Air." The exhibit will run through Labor Day.

See Michael fly. See Michael dunk. See Michael fight Charles Barkley for a rebound. See Michael ice his ankle at the Omni Hotel in Orlando. See Michael lie in bed.

Iooss, the kind of storyteller who starts an anecdote with “I was on a river in Borneo,” said he was inspired by a free outdoor photo exhibit by Yann Arthus-Bertrand he saw in Paris in 1990.

Nine months ago, Iooss broached the idea for his current undertaking to Chicagoan William Kunkler III when they met on Long Island, where the photographer lives.

Kunkler is married to Susan Crown of the wealthy Crown family, longtime investors in the Bulls. He is a board member of the Field Museum, where he found this space; Jordan Brand, Michael’s corner of Nike, helped put things together.

The pictures are printed on lightweight Dibond boards that can resist the elements. At least for a few months.

“I think Chicago is going to have a lot of fun with it,” Kunkler said. “I think people are going to either take pictures of the pictures or selfies of the pictures.”

Iooss first photographed Jordan in 1987 at his basketball camp in Lisle, Illinois. That’s when their relationship blossomed.

“I was sent out there for Sports Illustrated, and I took arguably the best picture I ever took of him on Day 2,” Iooss said. “Then the slam-dunk [contest] the next year and we started to roll.”

That famous picture is an overhead shot of Jordan flying atop a blue basketball court. That’s in the exhibit. As is Iooss’ shot of Jordan during the 1988 slam dunk contest in Chicago.

Along with Wieden+Kennedy’s Nike commercials and weekend "NBA on NBC" national broadcasts, Iooss’ photos helped bring a mythological image of Jordan, the perfect man, to the world.

“I never feel that,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be with him at the peak of his career, in his youth. Are some of these pictures remembered by people? Yeah. But Michael, his aura is way bigger than any of these pictures. Michael was a talent that comes along once in a generation.”

Iooss, who said he followed Jordan around “like a detective” for years, last saw him in 2012 when they did a shoot for Golf Digest.

"I had a big wad of money, mostly ones," Iooss said. "I threw it on the table and said, 'I’m ready for you.' Michael said, 'You don’t have enough money to play me. You can play behind me tomorrow.'"

Like a picture frozen in time, some things never change.