Saturday, December 5, 2009
I am not a sports photographer nor am I a portraitist but I have been called upon to be both more often than I care to count. Everyone wants their picture taken & having tried my hand at most major American games, I, at least, know where to stand on the field. A little knowledge about “third & long”, stealing third base & third period takes you a long way towards better pictures. In addition, covering practices, tryouts, World Series, World Championships, World Cup & Olympic Games, you come in contact with a lot of testosterone.
Sports & photography are fraternal twins. The relationship exudes synergy. Assignments have allowed me to document soccer in Romania, kendo in Japan, boxing in Cuba & cycling in Korea. Sport is the international pastime. Everybody knows win/lose. And photography is the universal language. Sports are spontaneous, elusive feats of athletic prowess. Photography is the perfect stage.
"Correct thinkers think that “baseball trivia” is an oxymoron: nothing about baseball is trivial"
During the 2000 All Star break, Major League Baseball hired my studio to photograph the All Century Team. That season a banquet hall full of baseball “greats” awaited us after lunch in a downtown hotel. We peeked through the curtains to see Willie Mays sitting next to Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks shaking hands with Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan kibitzing with Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver towering over Yogi Berra. In their faces you could outline the story of baseball.
Our role was to preserve this moment in history. However household-name heroes were more interested in meeting each other than getting their pictures taken. None of the executives had enough spine to take charge & put a damper on their reverie. It finally came down to my grabbing the biggest, meanest personality & physically forcing him in front of my camera. Roger Clemens was so stunned by my audacity (you could see the anger in his eyes) that he acquiesced. After that he became very malleable. A lot can be said for the element of surprise. The rest of the celebrities were a lot easier to corral after my breach of etiquette.
"The trajectory of a fly ball is the perfect axiom
example of physics & fantasy
force equals mass times acceleration
its escape from gravity is the most sudden in sports
& is buoyed by the dreams of rabid fans &
boys & girls who see their future in flight
held aloft by half the people in the stadium
its fall to earth results from the curses of the other half"
One wizened, little old man wandered around aimlessly. Only a single reporter seemed interested so I asked who he was. “That’s Warren Spahn!” My father had always entertained me with stories of the Cy Young winner’s exploits & I think I watched him pitch part of a game on black/white television while growing up. I thought he was long dead. So I implored him to let me take his picture. He was so frail that when he got up from the session he stumbled over one of my cables. All I could see was the next morning’s headlines, Photographer Kills Baseball Legend.
I had to repeat the whole exercise in Atlanta during the World Series. There I hired enough assistants to thwart the throng of news photographers & television cameramen sent to cover the momentous event. I politely instructed them their flashes would prematurely set off my strobes & I would give them ample time after I had finished my assignment. Of course not one paid any attention. In fact the flashes accelerated. So one by one my local helpers would go & stand directly in front of any transgressor, blocking his view.
"Baseball is ninety percent mental & the other half is physical"-Yogi Berra
Later I enjoyed listening to Sandy Koufax & Ken Griffey Junior as they regaled their fans at press conferences. Stories told over & over to anyone within earshot, until they became myths. MLB comped us premium tickets later that evening as the Atlanta Braves won the game. Even though I was forbidden to bother anyone, I had bags full of baseballs hidden away & got lots of autographs. When we negotiated the fees for the job, my studio manager told the art director that I would have paid him for the experience.