Personal Statement: Capturing the small sports
We're all taught at a very young age that great results come from hard work and perseverance. Athleticism has always fascinated me, and it’s safe to say that most of America feels this way, too. We spend hours of our Saturdays glued to the TV watching football games. We stay up late if our teams are playing in different time zones. Sports culture is enormous in the United States, and this rings especially true at the University of Michigan.
As a senior at the University, I’ve done an obscene amount of self reflection these past few weeks. More specifically, reflecting on my time at The Daily and memories of some of the biggest trips I’ve taken to cover athletics: to Joe Louis Arena for the last “Duel at the D” in history, to Kansas City (which isn’t actually in Kansas) to see Oregon defeat Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen by one point, to Iowa to see the Hawkeyes defeat the Wolverines by one point. These were all exciting and monumental moments in my photography career, but I find myself reflecting on small, less popular sports as some of the pinnacle moments in crafting my images. I believe it will always be the less popular sports like women’s basketball, lacrosse or tennis, that I can accredit to my success.
There are certain photos you have to capture at major sports like football, basketball or hockey. There’s immense pressure to get these photos because capturing the biggest moments of action are critical. If you fail, it’s obvious; your publication doesn’t feature the shots. While I am always grateful to be able to cover football or men’s basketball, it oftentimes feels as though the creative, storytelling aspect isn’t as important as getting these game-specific shots. If you miss a touchdown or scored point, your work doesn’t seem to hold as much credibility compared to someone who captured every pivotal moment in a game. While this pressure creates incredible opportunities for growth in the field of sports photography, I sometimes feel as though my creative voice is lost in the demand for specific photographs. Though photographing the big sports provides a unique wave of energy, I often prefer the intimacy of smaller ones.
I can still remember my first time walking into the Crisler Center to photograph women’s basketball — it was my first time photographing a Michigan Athletics event. I’m sure I looked like I had no idea what I was doing (two different event staff asked if I knew where I was going), but I was determined. Even though this was an important game against Michigan’s bitter rival Ohio State, hardly any photographers were present. The atmosphere in Crisler felt relaxed, but I still felt the need to purely capture action shots.
During my second basketball game a few weeks later, I walked into Crisler and noticed a sea of pink: pink jerseys, pink shoes, pink headbands, pink pompoms. I quickly learned it was the team’s annual Pink Game, an afternoon spent paying tribute to those fighting or who have already fought against breast cancer. This was my second time taking photographs of a Michigan game. I snapped a few photos of the pink elements but figured they wouldn’t have much use because they weren’t action-related. During halftime, a Daily reporter found me on the court and said he was writing about the impact and importance of the Pink Game. He asked if I could try to capture as many pink-related photos as I could because they would add to the story. It seemed like a simple gesture at the time, but this moment had a profound impact on my view of sports photography.
I still hold onto this moment today — it has taught me time and time again to capture stories beyond just the game itself. Though peak action shots are important to any given game, it’s equally as important to tell a story with my photography — especially one that isn’t often told. The smaller sports at Michigan often don’t receive much publicity. As a photographer, I believe it’s part of my responsibility to give these teams the same attention I would the football, hockey and basketball teams.
With this in mind, I cover as many Michigan Athletics events as my schedule allows. My favorite is covering women’s gymnastics.
While popular sports like football present the challenge of capturing the perfect image of peak action, gymnastics has its own set of challenges: finding a unique angle that fully captures the event. Women’s gymnastics never fails to present me with this wonderful challenge of finding unique angles. Meets are always fast-paced, not taking any time for lengthy breaks in between events. With a challenge to create unique visual imagery with each different meet I photograph, this sport gives me tools to succeed in any other sport I’m shooting. If I feel myself getting too comfortable in a position on the hardwood floor, I force myself to move elsewhere to find a new angle. Though I’m not actually performing the difficult routines that gymnasts do, I perform to capture their grace and elegance in their athleticism. That is the challenge of storytelling.
I’ve received photo credentials on behalf of The Daily to access places like Joe Louis Arena, the Sprint and Kohl Centers, and the Kinnick and Beaver Stadiums. Though I proudly display the fancy photo credentials that hang on my wall, every other credential I've ever received from photographing Michigan Athletics events hangs right next to them, reminding me of all the smaller, intimate sports moments that have led me to where I am today.