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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark

Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark brings together a team of artists and documentarians around a season of minor league baseball to find stories and images on the field and behind the scenes that collectively present a microcosm of contemporary American culture engaged around a favorite pastime. The Durham Bulls are one of the most popular and successful minor league baseball teams in the country, with more players being sent to the Majors than any other minor league team. To diversify the documentation of the 2013 season, guest artists Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey, Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas and Hiroshi Watanabe were invited to photograph the team in Durham. "The opportunity to photograph spring baseball in North Carolina was a no-brainer," Soth says. "The pacing of baseball arouses a kind of leisurely attentiveness that is analogous to photographic seeing. You look and look and then every once in a while, snap, you get a hit." (Publisher’s Website - Daylight)

Baseball is unique in the sports world. Unlike other team sports, which often constitute a battle over territory relying on brute force, baseball is typically quiet and understated. It can even be lonely. The project “Bull City Summer,”… explores these qualities of the game… “I think there's more poetry in baseball than any other sport,” said Sam Stephenson, the project’s director. “Baseball is more subtle,” he said. (Jordan G. Teicher, Slate)

[Essayists] introduce us to a familiar cast of characters: the elderly couple who've missed just 50 games in 30-plus years; the aging veteran playing out the string in Triple-A, four years removed from a World Series appearance with the Yankees; the Duke philosophy professor who, before succumbing to colon cancer in 2013, would "adopt" a player every year, bringing him cookies and the occasional CD filled with classical music; the Cuban first baseman whose league MVP award will get him no closer to the big leagues; the general manager who helped revitalize the club in 1980 and who claims at the start of one essay, "I'm a gifted salesman. I hate it, but I am."

Meanwhile, the photos highlight the play between the sort of regional authenticity that clubs sell to local fans and the generic ballpark experience found in dozens of baseball towns—Corpus Christi, Rancho Cucamonga, New Britain, wherever—around the country.
(Ian Gordon, Mother Jones)

Stephenson intentionally chose photographers with no sports or journalism background to work on the project, and he didn't give them any specific assignments when he sent them to the ballpark to take photos…The results represent a variety of photographic technologies and artistic approaches. Alec Soth used an 8-by-10 film camera. Hiroshi Watanabe shot in black and white with a medium-format camera. Leah Sobsey, meanwhile, created tintypes using 19th-century technology. “Baseball is extraordinary for the dedication to craft required and the repetition of routines. I think that's related to art. Great art is achieved through the same dedication to craft and trial and error and just plain work,” Stephenson said.
(Jordan G. Teicher, Slate)

Stephenson described [Kate] Joyce’s work ethic as “relentless,” and she attended about 60 games during the project. She captured some idiosyncratically poetic images that only a non-baseball fan would have even noticed, such as a mosaic of bubblegum wrappers that bullpen pitchers had turned into makeshift lawn darts.

As for Hunter, he approached Durham Bulls Athletic Park as if it were a natural landscape, creating stunning photos of the surrounding skies.

“It took Frank Hunter a long time to find himself in the stadium,” Stephenson said. “He’s really a landscape photographer, so he treated the stadium like a lake, valley or river. Frank is almost like a painter, seeing landscapes nobody else sees and revealing them with his camera. It took him most of the season to figure out. But that’s how art works. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and repetition to reach that higher level, just like baseball.” (David Menconi, News & Observer Online)

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