Each year, the Houston Center for Photography holds an extensive charity auction to benefit HCP and their various educational programs. I was honored to be asked to donate a print to the auction, and even more honored to see it in the auction catalog alongside some of my heroes like Keith Carter, Herb Ritts, and Maggie Steber. My print was purchased by Lisa Volpe, the Associate Curator, Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The auction encompasses several individual events, including an exhibition, a tour of the exhibition with the fantastic former MFAH curator Anne Wilkes Tucker and Clint Willour, Curator Emeritus of the Galveston Arts Center and a major donor to the MFAH. The auction culminates in a dinner/live auction at the Briar Club in Houston.
The print I donated was a simple black and white closeup of Nolan Ryan’s fastball grip on a baseball. It was taken during a 2010 session for Sports Illustrated….the actual assignment was to shoot Ryan with a group of young pitchers, but of course I wanted to maximize my time with him, so I also arranged an individual portrait of Nolan, and also the closeup of his hand, an obvious homage to the work of Charles Conlon.
Prior to Sports Illustrated, I worked at The Sporting News (known for many years as the “Bible of Baseball”) for over a decade, so I was aware of the work of pioneering baseball photographer Conlon (his photographs and negatives were part of the TSN archive when I worked there).
I had pitched (lol) a story on shooting closeups of the signature pitch grip of an array of Hall of Fame pitchers, but the story never took hold. It was probably not a super original idea, but I thought it would have been interesting. Portrait on one side of the layout – closeup of the pitch grip on the other side. On this particular day, I was there for the pitching group photo, but story assignment or not, it seemed silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to document the closeup photo, since I had an audience with Ryan. Years later, long after my tenure at TSN was over, I think another sports magazine finally published a story featuring the closeups of various pitchers grips, but not quite the way I envisioned it.
Anyway, it was exciting to watch the auction happen in real time, with curator Lisa Volpe and Clint Willour pairing up to win the auction and donate the print to the MFAH. I am told it’s the only piece they purchased at the auction this year. I’m incredibly honored, and I hope to someday donate another photo worthy enough for the museum.
Here’s a blog post from the original shoot in 2010.
Derek Jeter’s first full season in the majors coincided with my first year at The Sporting News: we both started in earnest at our respective jobs in April of 1996. He was 22-year-old rookie, and I was a fledgling 26-year-old sports photographer.
I covered him in various Yankees games throughout the years, including Six of his World Series appearances, and photographed portraits of him several times for various stories and covers. He was always a humble, quiet, gentleman – a real class act. On the day of his last MLB game, I thought I would share some photos and memories of Mr. November.
I first photographed Derek during game action of the 1996 Yankees season. I don’t remember much about him from that year, other than having my lens trained on him for hours, trying to get that elusive shortstop levitation picture. That 1996 World Series was my initiation into Yankee Stadium “Bleacher Creature” culture. As the young guy at TSN, I was relegated to shooting most of the series from a camera platform over the right field wall. The cool part, was I shot next to my late friend, legendary SI baseball photographer V. J. Lovero. I remember him being unfazed, even giddy as the Creatures conducted “Roll Call.” For the uninitiated, Roll Call, is a series of chants by the Bleacher Creatures of each players name – (“DEH—RIK —JEEEE—TER!!!), which continues unabated until the player being called tips his cap or otherwise acknowledges the fans, at which point they go nuts, and then move on to the next player. Once that is done, they revert to pelting photographers with beer and open mustard packets.
In 1997, I made portraits of him during the off season at Legends Field in Tampa, which resulted in a cover later on. I was still shooting 35mm then, and he was patient with me as I ran him from station to station, trying to get some different looks out of him.
In 1999, we had a project where TSN named an “All-throwback Team.” Guys that were old-school, who played the game “the right way” were photographed in black and white in old uniforms in vintage, Charles Conlon style stiff poses for a photo essay that would be published just before Spring Training.
The tough part wasn’t shooting the photos. It was finding old gloves, uniforms, shoes, etc with no production budget, and then scheduling all of these during January and February before Spring Training started. I was lucky in that the owners of Mitchell and Ness, and Ebbetts Field Flannels, makers of old authentic jerseys, really embraced the project and let us borrow their cool jerseys. One of our issues was finding pants, believe it or not. Nobody had old school baggy baseball pants. I scoured the country looking for them but had zero luck. I didn’t want to create an entire photo story with waist-up portraits of every player. I thought that would be boring. Peter Capolino, the owner of Mitchell and Ness, dug around in his basement and found me a pair of pinstriped pants that we thought would fit Jeter. The problem? One leg was pinstriped in blue, and the other side was pinstriped in RED!
My memory is fuzzy, but he said something about them being made for an old timers event for someone who split their career between two teams…..(for some reason, I’m thinking Tug McGraw -Mets/Phillies – which would make sense since M&N was in Philly), but I can’t remember for sure. In any event, there I was back at Legends Field (which has a nice overhang roof reminiscent of the old MLB stadiums), trying to convince Derek Jeter that he’s not going to look like an idiot in half red/half blue pinstriped pants.
“No, really, dude…we’re only going to run these in B&W….nobody will ever know….really, trust me, come on….”
He was dubious, but he played along anyway, and we made some portraits of him in his “authentic” 1930’s era Yankee uniform. I wanted to shoot type 55 Polaroid, but my boss insisted I shoot color on the photos and have our backshop convert them, so here’s the evidence of Jeter in those goofy pants. Sorry Derek!
During Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, I was working the New York games with my colleagues, Albert Dickson and John Dunn, and I was still hurting from the night before. Game 3 was the game where President Bush threw out the first pitch, and it was only a few weeks after 9/11. It was a fantastic moment. Unfortunately, because we had to be in our photo positions 3 hours before game time, because of security concerns, I took a screaming Tony Womack line drive to my jaw during BP. My head was ringing and my ligaments in my face were so stretched that my jaws/teeth didn’t line up correctly for a month. I would have gone to a hospital, except that the hospitals were experiencing a scare over anthrax!
So, it’s now Game 4, and on this particular night I was on the 3rd base side…waaaaaay outside – almost in left field. My head still hurt, but despite that and my remote position, there were distractions to keep us busy in the early innings. Just after the game started, the Yankees escorted Spike Lee into our photo well very close to us. I don’t know if they actually sold seats in the photo wells, or if they were just trying to accommodate VIPs, but a few minutes later I was shoved forward as Pete Sampras and his wife Bridgette Wilson (who’s really stunning by the way…), were also seated in the well next to us. A few innings later, I was bumped and shoved forward again as Flavor Flav came by to say hi to Spike (his seats weren’t as good).
After Tino Martinez tied the game with a two run homer in the 9th, the clock soon struck midnight. The Yankees flashed a sign on the scoreboard that said “Welcome to November Baseball.” I was really tired, and remarked to the photographer next to me that I really wished I had the other half of that pastrami sandwich from lunch at the Stage Deli. Jeter came up to bat in the tenth, and on a 3-2 count, blasted the game winning walk off homer, earning him the nickname “Mr. November.” The fans stayed in the stadium cheering, and singing “New York, New York” until the wee hours. I was ready to go, and found my colleague from MLB, baseball photographer extraordinaire Brad Mangin just standing there with a big grin on his face, taking in the scene. Maybe it was because of my aching head, or maybe it was because I was tired and hungry, but I was ready to head in. Brad stopped me….”Dude, this is one of the best World Series games ever played!” I stopped, took a few more pictures, and hung out with Brad on the field for a few minutes watching the fans, and it is still one of my favorite World Series memories.
In 2002, Jeter was named the cover of the Sporting News “Good Guys” issue. For several years, we did a special issue featuring players who made outstanding community or charity contributions, hence the name. This was about players who were the antithesis of the thug millionaires many had come to associate with professional sports stars….David Robinson had been our “Good Guy” the previous year I think.
I was in New Jersey for the NBA Finals against the Lakers with my colleague Bob Leverone. We were dispatched to Pier 60 after Game 4 to shoot Jeter with his family for the GG issue. For this feature, we photographed the players in street clothes, not their uniform, and Derek showed up in a beautiful custom suit. As I began to shoot, I noticed he was wearing a Platinum Rolex President with a diamond bezel. It was a really nice watch, and not nearly as crazy or blingy as some others I’ve seen, but I thought it would be too distracting on the cover. I also thought that it might send the wrong message on a cover highlighting his foundation’s good works. I asked to adjust his wardrobe for a sec, and I gently pulled the cuff down over the watch. He looked at me like I was nuts, and I don’t think he knew why I was doing it, (I said something about making the suit look straight), but I felt like it was the right thing to do at the time. His parents and sister were there as well, and we made a nice portrait of them together. They were all lovely people.
In 2004, Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees and although everyone was abuzz about Arod, we also requested some shots of Jeter and Arod together at the shoot. I’m not sure when their relationship supposedly cooled, but Jeter was just as solid as ever, showing up on time with a good attitude. One of the shots of them together made the cover a few weeks later.
I left the Sporting News in Dec 2006 to work on my own, but I’ve been lucky to cover Jeter a couple of more times since then. I really would love to have seen that final single he swatted a couple of nights ago during his final home game. Hopefully I’ll get to make another portrait of him at some point.
The workshop is the brainchild of Rich Clarkson, the legendary photographer and former Director of Photography at National Geographic and several newspapers.
Among the scheduled faculty this year: Brad Smith, Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated; Nate Gordon, Photo Editor at Sports Illustrated; Lucas Gilman, adventure photographer; John McDonough, photographer at Sports Illustrated; Mark Reis, Director of Photography at the Colorado Springs Gazette; Mark Terrill, staff photographer at the Associated Press; Joey Terrill, Los Angeles based commercial photographer and frequent Golf Digest contributor; and several others.
The workshop is sponsored by Nikon, and offers students a chance to shoot in and around beautiful Colorado Springs, with access to the Olympic Training Center and many of the elite athletes that train there.
I recently photographed 2012 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price of the Tampa Rays for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue. Each year, SI publishes several regional covers for the baseball preview, along with a centerpiece story, and of course all the usual team specific preview spreads. I was fortunate enough to do the Price cover and the opening centerpiece spread story on the Rays pitching staff. Legendary Sports Illustrated Staffer Walter Iooss and longtime staffer Robert Beck shot the other regional covers , so I was in good company!
This was a team effort with different photographers shooting covers in different cities, yet the magazine wanted them to look the same. I was sent a rough comp with a pitcher following through in his delivery, on black, with the broken glass added to the foreground in post. This is not an uncommon assignment, especially in the advertising world, so being able to interpret a comp and match what other photographers have done previously is a useful skill.
The first critical task was finding a place to shoot. Since we were trying to keep these consistent, we needed a large room where we could essentially set up a studio. Spring Training in Florida is often super bright, super windy, and there aren’t many private spaces away from fans and other teammates to do this sort of thing. We essentially needed to build a black box of black fabric 12 x 12‘s to control light in the shoot area, and we were lucky to find a spot in the minor league clubhouse that worked well. Setting up an overhead, a background, and two side 12 x 12’s in the wind and weather was something I was trying to avoid at all costs. You would need a crew of 3-4, and a million sandbags to do that, and we were on a limited budget.
Since we were dealing with white uniforms, and the background was black, I decided to rimlight the pitchers from behind, using two large chimera strip banks oriented vertically on each side and fill from the front. Since we had left handers and right handers, I decided to use two small lightbanks on boomed C-stands positioned close to the ground in front of the pitchers (Chimera mediums I think…I normally use Plume stuff, but these were rentals). We had each light on it’s own Profoto 8A pack so we could shoot everyone fast. We didn’t know when we were setting up if we would get all five pitchers in rapid succession or spread out throughout the day, but we wanted to be ready so that we could maximize our time with them.
We varied the ratio slightly on the front lights depending on whether the pitcher was right or left handed (we just flopped settings on the packs accordingly). By doing this, we were trying to keep them from looking too flat. We also used cinefoil on the bottom third of the front lights to prevent the legs from getting too hot in the photo.
Since we were inside, and not on a mound, we drug the lights outside the night before the shoot and lit a practice mound in the same fashion so we would have foreground plates for the retouchers at SI to use.
We photographed all five pitchers throughout the day, in various stages of their delivery, but when it was David Price’s turn, we asked if he minded shooting a few photos outside. He was relaxed and said sure, so we promptly moved him out to a practice mound outside of the building we were in. We worked quickly and shot him with an Elinchrom Octabank at full power (2400 w/s) to overpower the high 1 PM daylight. Not an ideal situation, but you take David Price whenever you can get him.
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The next day, we finished the story on Tampa’s pitching factory, shooting a setup with the Tampa manager and pitching coach, and a young prospect, Taylor Guerrieri, mentioned in the story. When we were done with Taylor, we asked him to hang around and pitch in the foreground for us, which made a nice framework for the coach photo…and of course we shot “normal” stuff of both coaches as well.
My favorite Florida assistant, Cy Cyr, was nice enough to join me on this adventure, and helped us out tremendously by renting gear for us from Rummel Wagner at Central Florida Strobe in Orlando.
In the end, SI imaging changed everyone’s backgrounds to blue, and they used a different mound, which was lit a little differently. All the photos were opened up in the shadows so that they were a closer match. The coolest part about SI’s final presentation? If you looked at the magazine on an ipad, you hear breaking glass as the cover appears. Cool.