There are many things that identify a city–the location, the food, the weather, the music, the culture, the pace of life. All solid, wonderful indicators of the character and soul of a locale. Another one of those indicators, and often a big piece of the puzzle of any metropolis, small or large, is the local sports teams. It’s incontrovertibly true. You don’t even have to be a sports fan to acknowledge it. When the ball team does well, the heartbeat of a city quickens.
The Boston Marathon bombing pierced the heart of the proud city of Boston. And, as with all tragedies, ordinary people rose up and became extraordinary. The cover of Sports Illustrated, the week after the bombing, featured three of those people, Boston Police officers Rachel McGuire, Javier Pagan and Detective Kevin McGill, responding immediately after the explosions.
Then came Big Papi and the Sox. A bearded band of brothers rose up, put a city on their shoulders, and made an unlikely charge to a championship. I shot the cover you see up top on Friday last week. It was an honor to be selected, and help create a visual memory of a special moment, when the emotional connection between sport and a city was at its most evident. The Bosox swept away the hurtful memory of panic and smoke filled streets, replacing it with a joyous, rolling parade of ducks winding through delirious crowds, and a third world championship in ten years.
But how do you show that connection, visually? It was a conundrum for an editorial magazine like SI, an astute observer of the world of sports. How do show the tragedy of the marathon, and the healing, transformative triumph of the World Series? The grouping above was not my idea. It sprang from the mind of the mag’s creative director, Chris Hercik, and immediately got the go ahead from managing editor Chris Stone. Find the police officers who were on the marathon cover, and put them with Big Papi. All those moving parts had to be assembled pronto, which was left to director of photography Brad Smith, and his formidably experienced department. Hard to do, but they came together quickly, and, Cali, Jon, Drew and myself found ourselves prepping late on Thursday night, and rolling to Boston at 6am on Friday.
This is where, as a photographer, you need a good editor. Brad and I probably talked a dozen times over the course of Thursday night and then Friday morning. I was nervous, and playing in my head with the potential visual arrangement of four people in the relatively confined vertical space of a cover. Four people, room for type, room for logo–kept playing in my head. Brad called, and he suggested placing Big Papi slightly separate from the trio of officers, or on the side, and for some pictures, not having him look at camera, but regarding the police with a quiet, “job well done” smile. That clicked in my head, and gave me an anchor, a starting point.
(There’s a bunch of stuff on the web about how the magazine conceived and prepared for this job. There’s a BTS video. USA today did a piece on the pulling together the idea. Yahoo Sports had some thoughts as well.)
We rolled heavy on this job. Six Elinchrom Ranger packs and heads, backdrops, sandbags, apple boxes, grip stuff, multiple big Octa light shapers. We stuffed the Suburban. Of course it was raining, and really, really windy (hey, it’s me) so I set up a quick indoor studio as a safe zone.
You need a backup, and a Plan B, C, D and F, ’cause you shoot these things fast. I looked at Big Papi, and said, “Okay, how much time I got.” He came back and said, “Twenty minutes.” From that point, I played a game with him. I’d burn like twelve minutes and look at him and say, “Okay, I’m checking the clock, and I got 17 more minutes.” He’d laugh, and shake his head. He gave us more time. Truth be told, I think he was enjoying himself.
If I were a major league pitcher, the above face, which, even in repose, is radiating a certain kind of “I’m a big cat, and you’re just a little mouse” confidence, would not be a welcome one looking out at me from home plate. I saw the scoreboard, left in place from the last Series’ game, and I grabbed Big Papi for a single. I even styled his scarf for him, and took him by the shoulders and rotated him into position. It was like moving a large tree trunk. I asked him to go dreamlike as well.
All this stuff happens very fast. The drumbeat in your head is to give the magazine options in your allotted time, no matter how brief. Don’t belabor a single point of view. Stay mobile. So we tried a set by the “Boston Strong” logo on the Green Monster.
And played that old kid’s game with the bat, to see who’s up first.
And I asked Big Papi to throw his arms around everybody, which he is quite capable of doing.
Cali and Jon make pretty good sandbags. Half the time out there I thought I was shooting the America’s Cup races.
A heartfelt, visual tip of the hat to the city of Boston and the Red Sox, who pulled off an amazing worst to first miracle season. Despite the wind and the rain, it was a wonderful day at Fenway, and I was honored to be a part of it.