Alec Soth's Archived Blog

June 12, 2007

Erotic baseball photography

Filed under: baseball — alecsothblog @ 10:29 pm

Kent Wallace, pitcher, Oneonta Yankees, Oneonta, New York, 1992

I’ve previous mentioned Andrea Modica twice (here and here), but failed to mention her terrific pictures of Minor League baseball players. Modica was interviewed about the work as part of the Smithsonian Photographers at Work series:

How did your series of pictures of baseball players come about?

I was on a date and we went to a baseball game. Now I had absolutely no interest in or knowledge of the game at that point, but I live in a tiny town and one thing you can do in the summer is go to a ball game. Although I wasn’t interested in the game, I could get a close look at these players, because in minor league baseball you can sit right near the field. They’re very close. So this pitcher walked in front of me and I noticed his cheekbones. I thought, “My, what fabulous cheekbones, and how that little cap sets them off.” While I watched the game, I wondered who on earth would choose this for a career. I mean, hitting this little ball around seemed so silly. These guys work very hard, they make very little money, and maybe two percent of minor league players go on to the major leagues. Knowing that, I was really curious about why they would do it, and I thought about this so much that it occurred to me, almost in a dream, to photograph these players. And I’ll tell you something, I woke up in a cold sweat. I was so scared of this particular project.

Why did you make portraits of the players rather than pictures of the game being played?

Because of my intense curiosity about them. After putting it off for a while, I contacted the team owner and asked if I could do this. He said yes, if I also got the team manager to agree. Sometimes when I was working with these guys they exhibited certain behavior that made me very uncomfortable, which was hard to deal with. But a certain discomfort was also a part of the family project.

You find this tension surrounding your differences with certain people stimulating?

I figure that if photographing a situation makes me this nervous there must be something for me to learn, and that makes it worth doing. It’s not only about taking good pictures.

I like that Modica is honest about her fears and her motivation. These pictures are as much about great cheekbones as they are about baseball. There is even a homoerotic quality to some of the pictures:

Ray Suplee and Kraig Hawkins, Oneonta Yankees, Oneonta, New York, 1992

More from Modica:

Initially, I might be interested in someone’s cheekbones, but when I’m ready to take the guy’s picture maybe his buddy comes along. What happens between the buddies? In the pictures of couples or groups, what becomes apparent is perhaps a power play. Sometimes it appears that one person has a little more power over the other. Remember, these players are highly competitive but they also really need each other – they need to work together closely. Well, one day two players showed up for a photograph – now, I hadn’t asked them to pose together – but the pitching coach later explained to me that one was a shortstop and the other a second baseman, and they were “married” on the field. It was curious that they wanted to be photographed together.

This homoerotic element brings to mind the work of Bruce Weber. I can’t find any Weber baseball pictures, but he did use this image of Marlon Brando by Sam Shaw on the cover of one of his All-American Magazines:

Marlon Brando by Sam Shaw

Inside the magazine, Shaw’s daughter, Meta Shaw Stevens, talks about the picture:

It was the early 50’s at an Actors Studio party in Connecticut. Marlon was playing baseball in a tight bathing suit. The suit had a rip in the back and I remember him picking up a flower (daisy) and putting it in where the hole was. The rest of the day he walked around with that flower sticking out. It was great!

In another Smithsonian Photographers at Work book, Bruce Weber is asked about the homoerotic quality of his work:

I think any kind of sexuality in a photograph is really determined by the person looking at the photograph. It has become increasingly hard today for photographers to be able to express their sexual feelings in photographs – and its definitely important to express them. I feel very strongly about that.

I agree with Weber that it is important, but I’m not sure it is increasingly hard to express these feelings. However, he said that in 1992 – long before the web explosion. A lot has changed. And perhaps something has been lost. I love the slightly sublimated sexuality that creeps into photographic specialties like sports or even science photography. Eadweard Muybridge is a good example:


Read Eric Carroll’s post on Muybridge here

Read about Sports Illustrated’s ‘landmark moment in baseball homoeroticism’ here

June 11, 2007

Corking the camera

Filed under: baseball,quotes — alecsothblog @ 8:09 am

I’m a sucker for a good sports metaphor. The last two nights I’ve hung out with Todd Deutsch. Maybe because Todd is a baseball fan and Little League dad, I’m in the mood for a good baseball analogy. Batting, it seems to me, is a lot like photography. Whether you are a slugger like Gursky or a contact hitter like Erwitt, the rules of hitting are mostly the same. Perhaps these tips from Jack Aker might also apply to photography:

  • Have no fear — in order to hit you must stay in the box at a distance from the plate from which you can hit any pitch in the strike zone.

  • Have a balanced stance — if you are not comfortable and relaxed in the box, you will tighten up, which will keep you from swinging quickly and smoothly.

  • Keep your eye on the ball — this is not just a cliche. Try to see the ball while it is still in the pitcher’s hand, and follow it all the way to the plate. Try to see your bat hit the ball. When you take a pitch, or don’t swing, watch the ball all the way into the catcher’s mitt.

  • Grip the bat loosely — your fingers and hands should not tighten up on the bat until you are actually starting your swing. If you squeeze the bat while awaiting the pitch, you will tighten up your arms and shoulders and you won’t be as quick with your swing.

  • Don’t overswing — if you are thinking only about hitting home runs, your swing will be out of control, and you will probably pull your head away and take your eye off the ball. The result – you’ll strike out. Think only of making sharp contact and putting the ball into play.

  • Learn the strike zone — although a few pitches which are just out of the strike zone may be hit for base hits, most of your safeties will come on pitches which are in your strike zone. Every batter’s strike zone is different. Learn your strike zone. Be patient and swing at strikes only.

Or maybe photography is more like flyfishing. I’ve always loved this quote from Stephen Shore’s 1982 edition of Uncommon Places:

Color film is wonderful because it shows not only the intensity but the color of light. There is so much variation in light between noon one day and the next, between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. A picture happens when something inside connects, an experience that changes as the photographer does. When the picture is there, I set out the 8×10 camera, walk around it, get behind it, put the hood over my head, perhaps move it over a foot, walk in front, fiddle with the lens, the aperture, the shutter speed. I enjoy the camera. Beyond that it is difficult to explain the process of photographing except by analogy:

The trout streams where I flyfish are cold and clear and rich in the minerals that promote the growth of stream life. As I wade a stream I think wordlessly of where to cast the fly. Sometimes a difference of inches is the difference between catching a fish and not. When the fly I’ve cast is on the water my attention is riveted to it. I’ve found through experience that whenever- or so it seems – my attention wanders or I look away then surely a fish will rise to the fly and I will be too late setting the hook. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes – I strike. Then the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.

Or maybe photography is like cricket. The fantastic photographer Trent Parke (who just opened a show at the Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island) is also a former professional cricket player. When I see Trent next week, I’ll ask him if he has any good cricket tips to pass along.

January 16, 2007

Joy in Mudville

Filed under: baseball,lists — alecsothblog @ 10:08 pm

For years I’ve been a listener of Sports Talk radio. I don’t watch the games. I don’t care who wins. I just enjoy the mindless but detailed debate. It is a joy to listen to the nerds and statisticians sink their teeth into something entirely meaningless.

I have a craving for a similar kind of discussion in the arts. Awhile back I toyed with an exercise on charting photographers. (I never did figure out the Y axis). Not long afterward I encountered a much more elaborate literature map. I’m waiting for someone to apply a similar algorithm to the visual arts. The closest I’ve seen is Peter Schjeldahl’s appropriation of the ultimate nerd-stat paradigm, the baseball lineup:

Cindy Sherman, third base: middling range but super quickness, Gold Glove, hasn’t missed a ball hit her way in two seasons…disciplined hitter, pulls inside pitch for distance…selfless player, cinch to sac bunt or hit behind runner

Anselm Kiefer, first base: two-ton Teuton, just adequate at position, can be bunted on…fearsome slugger, aggressive, bad-ball hitter, can take anything downtown…slow but intimidating on bases, catcher advised not to block.

Brice Marden, second base: keystone pro, range limited but good jump, unreal pivot…tough out, sometime power…knows the game, team captain.

Frank Stella, starting pitcher: ageless vet, owns the ball…heat diminished but sneaky with awesome pitch assortment, super control, mixes speeds, throws changeup for strike…competitor, will brushback.

Ed Rusha, short relief: submarine delivery…indifferent heat but slider and screwball sparkle, keeps everything low.

General Managers: Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns

Grounds crew: Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer

I’m sorry for turning this into Schjeldahl Week, but I’ve been reading Hyydrogen Jukebox and it is just too good. The only problem with the baseball lineup is that it is dated. (1982, from the essay Clemente to Marden to Kiefer). What would the lineup look like 25 years later? Who would be playing in Mudville – Barney at the bat?

September 10, 2006

A boy can dream

Filed under: baseball,goof — alecsothblog @ 8:19 pm


– doesn’t the background look like a Robert Adams?


September 9, 2006

Mike Mandel and Johnathan Gitelson

Filed under: artists,baseball — alecsothblog @ 8:44 am

I just realized that among my Mike Mandel photographer/baseball cards, I have a Todd Walker:
Hard to believe these things are over thirty years old. Look at Larry Sultan then:

and now:


One more favorite (not going to trade this one):

I think that Johnathan Gitelson might be my generation’s Mike Mandel. On Jon’s blog he says he is a baseball fan. Maybe someone can talk him into doing a contemporary version of these cards. We know he has the graphic design talent:


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