A look in the mirror

So Magnum Photos has been a trashfire for a while but I’ve only been sort of paying attention to it. Thankfully Benjamin Chesterton over a Duckrabbit has been on top of it. A couple days ago he published a comprehensive wrap of everything that’s been going on with Magnum over the past four years. It’s heavy stuff. Difficult to read and I cannot even begin to fathom how hard it was to research and write.

I have nothing to add to specific discussion about the Magnum rot. Their behavior has been abhorrent and the organization needs to just disband. But to think this issue is limited to Magnum misses half of the problem.

Reading Duckrabbit’s post reminded me how important it is to reevaluate my visual literacy. What kinds of photos I find pleasurable. Who is depicted as human versus who gets objectified. We like to think that the abhorrent stuff is obvious but it didn’t get magicked into being just overnight. It’s the logical result of a century of certain viewpoints and methods being lionized as authoritative.

All of us in photography—whether as photographers or just consumers—grew up seeing certain photos as being good or important. We’ve learned to accept the white male gaze. We’ve learned to expect the western colonial framing. We’ve learned to treat white men as impartial and everyone else as being biased by their identity.

Magnum is a huge part of that tradition. No matter how good their founding members are, you can see the first steps down this road. I’ve said before that I like Cartier-Bresson’s European work but am generally not interested in his work abroad. None of it as as bad as what Magnum has become but the trajectory is there from the beginning.

I went semi-viral a half-dozen years ago when I said I found this kind of thing boring. Looking back on that now, I kind of cringe at my reaction. Boring is still coming from a place of privilege. It’s a good first step but it allows me to ignore things that are harming other people instead of  actively denouncing them.

I need to do better. Be more vocal about reprogramming my visual literacy. Boost other people like Duckrabbit who are also doing the work. And even just simple things like sharing what kinds of things I’m looking at and how they expand my eye.

Fantasy Life

I received a copy of Tabitha Soren’s Fantasy Life for Christmas. Fantasy Life tracks the careers of ten members of the Oakland A’s 2002 draft class—the Moneyball class—as they make their way through the minors. Most of them top out at AA or AAA. A couple got a cup of coffee in the bigs. Two—Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen—had decent Major League careers.

It’s set up as a scrapbook of sorts with many different kinds of photos—both in terms of technique and content. As a photographer who shoots with multiple kinds of cameras and lenses it’s nice to see a photobook like this which is all over the place yet still comes together. Because the different types of photos—including tintypes from screenshots—aren’t labelled* I don’t look at them for what they depict but instead recognize the sense of place that they describe.

*There is an index in the back but it’s clear that the photo identification isn’t part of the project.

Minor League Baseball is its own subculture of baseball as a local phenomenon coupled with baseball for people who love baseball. When I go to a game and wear a Minor League cap, I end up I conversations with other fans about where else I’ve seen games and what the experience was like. It doesn’t matter who the cap is of, just wearing one marks me as a certain kind of fan who likes the smaller parks, watching the games, and seeing guys before they’ve made it big.

Looking through the photos in the book and I recognize so many glimpses into the Minor League experience. The way things are a bit run down. The way the players are almost all uniformly young. The way the stands are close and you can see a lot more of the mechanics of what it takes to stage a ballgame. As an autograph collector I’m used to arriving at stadiums early and staying late and seeing it go through its quieter moments when few people are around.

The games aren’t about the details and they all blur together. In a good way. Summer nights. Saturday afternoons. Sitting back. Watching a game. Keeping score. Eating a hot dog. As much as it’s a fantasy life for the players who are all chasing a dream, it’s a bit of a fantasy for the fans too where there’s often no better place to spend three hours of the summer.

This book isn’t new and I’ve wanted to take a good look through it for a while. It is however especially interesting to view it right now in the aftermath of the whole reorganization of the Minor Leagues and with almost 20 years of hindsight on the Moneyball revolution.

We’ve had a couple decades of ownership treating players increasingly as interchangeable parts where the right mix of net velocity or OPS is all that’s needed and stardom is in fact a liability because it increases a player’s salary. This isn’t a knock on the Moneyball ethos as much as it’s an observation about what how something that was great for a small-market team without a lot of money became a way for larger market teams to become cash cows for their owners.

Traditionally, baseball teams made money for their owners when they were sold. Money and cash flow is of course always an issue but you didn’t run a team in order to get richer. The past decade though has been all about maximizing a team’s yearly profit, often a the expense of the product on the field. It’s not about who the best players are or

We’ve also just cut over forty Minor League teams as a cost-saving measure without any thought about what that means to the communities which support those teams and the hundreds of players who are being cast out of professional baseball.

Yes I know baseball is a business. But this thing where it’s behaving in a way that doesn’t understand how its product consists of people who fans are supposed to connect with is hugely dismaying. That Soren isn’t a baseball fan but kind of intuits exactly this is what makes the book so fascinating.

She’s tagging along with Michael Lewis and taking photos of the games, and ostensibly the players. But it’s clear that her interests aren’t with the on-field action. She likes the moments in between the action that really captures the experience of being at the ball park. Little details like the dents on a metal door or discarded gum wrappers on the ground. The way that players sit on the bench waiting for something to happen. The way that fans behave in the stands.

Baseball is a game of waiting and being and Soren recognizes immediately how important the human side of it all is. How the minors are a grind and dream deferred while simultaneously being a fantasy where everyone exists as pure potential. Where the games are there to be enjoyed on their own without the weight of standings and playoff positioning that accompanies the major league games.

She captures the way that the players are playing their hearts out. Training as much as they can. Getting by on their meager per-diems. The game action doesn’t look fun but the interviews with each player reveal how much  they love the game. Especially in the minors where it’s never just a job. There’s a sense of loss that accompanies each of the players’ retirements. Not because they didn’t have the career they wanted but rather that retiring meant that they had to give up the game.

That sense of loss really hits hard since I know that hundreds of players were essentially cut from professional baseball this winter. Guys who weren’t yet ready to give up on playing a game they loved now have nowhere to play. Maybe there will be more independent leagues but my guess is that a lot of them are stuck in the wilderness.

Kodak Rookie Card

Anson over at Pre War Cards has been running weekly sales for a couple months now. I got in on his first couple but recently things are both getting a bit too expensive for me and are getting snapped up super fast. I’m happy they’re so successful for him.

Even though I’m not buying anymore I still look at what he’s selling because 75% of what he shows are things I’ve never seen before.

One such card that he showed last month was a “History of Sports and Pastimes of all Nations” trade card for Arbuckle’s Coffee which showed the United States’ pastimes as of 1893. While the main draw is the fact that it shows baseball, I almost sprained my back snapping forward to take a closer look at the card because it depicted a camera.

Why? Because it was a box camera that looked eerily like a Brownie…only Brownies didn’t get introduced until 1900. Brownie cameras are traditionally credited with creating the amateur photography market due to costing only a dollar (with film and processing being another 50¢)*

*So around $30 bucks for a camera and $15 for film/processing in today’s money.

I was plenty confused, even going so far as to conclude that this card must’ve been printed later and that the copyright date had to be incorrect. This would eventually not make sense to me either since other cards in the set—for example Cuba which is clearly before the Spanish-American War—are clearly placed in the first half of the decade.

The mystery plus the fact that the card depicted a camera placed it solidly on my ebay search list. It’s not that easy to find but late last month one popped up at a much more palatable price and so I jumped on it. Lower grade than the one Anson sold but I don’t care about condition.

When it arrived it was indeed awesome as I got a chance to give it a much better look. The chromolithography printing is great and there’s just so much going on. Not just a camera and baseball, there’s yachting, fishing, bicycling and the circus.

The back is fantastic and details all the front images and more. I appreciate the way baseball is described as the pinnacle of ball sports* but again it’s the description of photography that I like best.

*Very similar in tone to RG Knowles’s building up of baseball.

Amateur photography is a fad that has come in recent years, but it has come to stay. The camera fiend is abroad in the land, and there’s little of note he does not capture.

This still makes me think of the Kodak Brownie first but then I remembered that Kodak released a couple box cameras before the Brownie.

The Brownie is noteworthy both because it was cheap and took roll film. The original Kodak however came out in 1888, cost $25 (over $700 in today’s money), and came pre-loaded with enough paper film to take 100 photographs. I kind of love the simplicity of this camera with how it had no viewfinder and shot circular images to both avoid horizon issues and to have the most-efficient lens usage.

It however is not the camera depicted on the Arbuckle card. The Arbuckle camera has viewfinders so my best guess is that it’s the Kodak No. 2. It’s not an exact match but it’s pretty close and the timeline feels right. Is this a Kodak “Rookie Card”? Perhaps it is.

I love the idea that by 1893 amateur photography is both a fad and clearly not going away. It gives me a sense of how ready people were to not only consume photographs but to create their own. Even an expensive camera like the first Kodak was enough to create enough “photo fiends” for photography to be considered an American™ pastime.

This card and the description on the back really shows how important the first Kodak was to democratizing photography. I can’t imagine how primed the market was by 1900 for something affordable like the Brownie.

Notes

This is not only my oldest trading card now but, because of the baseball depiction, it’s my oldest baseball card as well. Where my previous oldest baseball card depended on how you categorized my RG Knowles, this is a no-doubter. It’s very cool to have one that predates Major League Baseball. Once I get a no-doubt baseball card from the 1900s I’ll have a card from every decade starting with the 1890s. That’s kind of amazing to me.

A White Whale

Mike Mandel’s Baseball Photographer Trading Card set has been one of my favorite things for a few years. It’s the venn diagram intersection of my interests on baseball cards, printing, and photography but is unfortunately frequently priced as Art™ in the few instances when cards are even available.

I don’t even want to collect the set (although I’m kicking myself over missing the window on buying the catalog to his Good 70s show which included a complete second-edition set). It’s just that there are a handful of cards in it that I kind of love.

Last week though I landed one of those cards. I wasn’t internet stalking it or anything, I just randomly check ebay like I do a couple times a year and lo and behold this was available.

For the last five years or so if I had to pick a favorite photographer I would’ve answered Lewis Baltz. It’s not just that he was a photographer’s photographer whose work I can look at all day,* but the fact that his work taught me how to see.

*I wish I could say I own all his books but, alas, I only have Industrial Parks.

Baltz’s photos are transformative, beautiful images of buildings and places that most people deride as ugly and uninspired. As a child of the suburbs who learned to drive in deserted industrial parks, these places speak to me as “home” just as much as any photo of the natural beauty of the American West does.

Looking at his work trained me own eye in noticing what’s interesting about industrial buildings and the way their façades interact with light. There’s a surprising amount of texture and going out through an Industrial park to go “baltzing” is one of my favorite ways to take a photo walk.

While the photos start off being very much in his style, like anything artwise if you stay on that path you eventually end up someplace more personally interesting. In my case, one of my favorite projects I’ve been working on is a mix of color and black and white photos of the locations where my kids attend birthday parties.

These are frequently in warehouses and other nondescript buildings but of all the things in New Jersey they are by far what I’ve enjoyed photographing the most.

I’m very happy to have this. It’s the first card I’m considering putting in a one-touch and keeping on my desk. …well…keeping on my desk on purpose.

1928 Cavander’s Peeps Into Many Lands

Another Monday, another pre-war set. This time I’m looking at my 1928 Cavander’s Peeps Into Many Lands. This is the second series of at least three that Cavender’s released. It’s yet another set like the Wonders of the Past which serves as a way of seeing the world back in an age when international travel was something most people couldn’t conceive of.

I grabbed these a couple months ago but haven’t gotten around to making a post since this is more than just a set of tobacco cards. For one, they’re actual photographic prints instead of lithographs. Second, this is a set of 36 stereo photos across 72 cards. Yup. These were intended to be viewed in a small stereoviewer.

While I wasn’t going to scan everything like I did with my Viewmaster,* I wanted to do a few in 3D. I limited myself to only four stereo images for this post to give a sense of the effect. The 3D is cool. But the photos themselves work pretty well by themselves.

*Unlike the Viewmaster these are prints I can see without needing a special tool so there’s less reason for me to convert them into a more-viewable format.

There are roughly three kinds of images in the set. The first are scenic views of places. This set is for British customers and it’s clear in this case that “Many Lands” is short for “non-Europe.” So we’ve got small scenic images from around the world. Some depict nature but most are architecture of some sort.

These are very nice and give a window into different architectural styles around the world. I can’t help but laugh at the way they put the United States’ neoclassical buildings and elevated subways in the same conversation as various pagodas and temples. The USA cards look incredibly mundane to me now but their inclusion shows how different the American buildings looked to Europe at this time.

There are also a handful of animal images. While they purport to be images of wild animals it’s clear that these are all photos of animals in captivity. As with the scenic images though these take us back to an era when the world was bigger and something super-common like a Sea Lion is exotic because it doesn’t live in the Atlantic Ocean.

About half of the set though is photos of people in a very National Geographic Human Zoo sort of way. We’ve got lots of people, most of them with dark skin, most of them in some sort of non-Western clothing. It’s very telling that where the United States is represented with city scenes, the only people depicted from here are American Indians.

We’ve got busy street scenes from around Asia. Many of these are cool because of the street details and how you can get a larger sense of place from them. That quite a few show people around the subject who happen to be in Western clothing is also interesting and says a lot about what these photos focus on and how they emphasize differences.

We’ve also got a lot of scenes around Oceania which replace the street with more natural settings. Palm trees and other tropical foliage. Beaches and boats with unfamiliar riggings.

Between the Asian and Oceania images there are a decent number of photos that veer into the pretty girl territory. Some could even be pin-ups. I didn’t scan them but they’re there and combine with the rest of the tropes to remind me about how damaging photography’s gaze can be.

Do I like this set? I do. Very much. But it’s selling a very colonial gaze that I have to acknowledge. That it’s from 1928 helps here since I can view these as historical documents of how the world was sold to the English back when they used to run it. Photography is still young at this point and the world was still large.

Ninety years later I can look at these as examples of what we should have matured away from. That so often in modern photography we see the same kinds of images and experience the same kind of use which exoticizes the subjects and forces it into a western-framed concept of “authenticity” is the problem.

My 2010s

I’ve only been blogging for nine years but ending the decade feels like a good time to look back on where this blog has been and how it’s changed from being about photography, museums, and sports to a lot more card collecting.

I still like photography and museums, I’ve just been in a bit of a rut ever since I moved to New Jersey. I need to get out more but I also need to be back in time to pick up the kids from school and I honestly just haven’t been inspired by my surroundings despite being here for six years.

Anyhoo, highlights from the past nine years of blogging. I made it to WordPress’s Discover (previously known as Freshly Pressed) twice. The first time was for a 2013 post about looking at photography which is really about dealing with the proliferation of any media. The second time was for a post about Atlee Hammaker and how, as a kid, I didn’t realize that he shared the same multicultural background I did.

I also had a moment of semi-virality in 2013 when I dashed off a quick (it’s always the quick posts that get you in trouble) post about “white guy photography” which took on a life of its own. I had to follow that up with some clarifications. That was an interesting ride and I’m not sure how people deal with that level of scrutiny and seething anger on a daily basis. I also shudder to think about what would’ve happened if that post had gone viral in the last half of this decade.

Another popular post was in 2014 and forshadowed my return to the hobby when I recognized that my childhood autograph collecting and current photography practices had a bit in common in terms of that push/pull between the process and the result. That reminder to enjoy the process rather than fixating on the result is possibly the single most important thread in my blogging. I don’t seek viewers or an audience, this is for my enjoyment and I just like the writing. That I only average, at most, one view an hour is still a lot more viewers than I ever expect to get.

For a blog where I wrote about sports a lot, I don’t have many sports posts listed on here and that’s because while I started out writing a bit about sports and fandom, the general theme on this blog has involved me drifting away from The Olympicsfootball, and Barcelona. Yes there are some posts in there which I liked but it’s been weird to chronicle and revist my abandonment of a lot of things I used to be a fan of.

The flip side of this is that I’ve also been able to write about my sons’ discover of baseball, especially minor league baseball. Over the past couple years I’ve been able to enjoy going to games with them and collecting cards and autographs with them and it’s been wonderful. I’ve rediscovered how baseball cards are one of the formative items in my childhood photography and design education and not only started blogging for SABR, I’m now the co-chair of the Baseball Card Committee.

This has meant that some of my favorite posts over the past couple years are actually on the SABR blog where I still write about photography and museums with posts about people like Mike Mandel, Cady Noland, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I’ve also particularly liked writing about the mental exercise of thinking about what it means to restore a baseball card as well taking a deep dive into R G Knowles and discovering the state of baseball in turn of the 20th century England.

Where will this blog go in the next ten years? Who knows. It’s been a fun ride so far and I owe everyone who’s read any of my posts a big thank you.

Pier 24, Looking Back

Oof. I try and get these posts out faster but sometimes life gets in the way. I took my annual visit to Pier 24 last summer but am only just getting to writing about it now. Posts about cards and my photos I can jam out quickly. Posts requiring me to reflect and think about something I’ve seen take a bit more time than I ca muster while trying to get a new house moved into.

I try to get to Pier 24 every summer no matter what the exhibition is. This summer the show was looking back at the previous years of shows and sort of summarizing where the collection has been over the past half-dozen years. In many ways this was the perfect show to let marinate longer. There’s nothing specific to review. Instead I get to reflect on how my thoughts about photography have changed over the past couple decades.

The Pilara Collection is kind of like the Criterion Collection in that it’s most of the standard canon of must-know works. As a result, it’s heavily western white-guy dominated with a few key Japanese artists thrown in the mix. Most of my formative photographic education came through viewing these artists and they’ll always be there as point of reference.

However, the missing pieces are increasingly obvious. Unfortunately, Pier 24’s no-context display does the collection no favors in terms of admitting any awareness of it’s deficiencies. It’s very easy to walk through the galleries and let yourself be led by the images into imagining a medium and history that’s dominated by a narrow point of view.

Or you can walk through like I do and let the no-context stuff be an excuse to project my own context on everything instead. This is especially true with the portraiture section and the way we know how white gaze works coupled with the increased access to photographic self-expression over the past couple decades.

Portraits

That the exhibition started off by grouping Diane Arbus, Paul Strand, and Richard Avedon. I laughed. While this does a disservice to Arbus’s work it says a lot about photography’s tendency toward othering its subjects and putting them on pedestals. The photos are great but we’re immediately put in the position of either gawking at the subjects or worshipping them—neither of which is the frame of mind I want to be in when viewing portraits.

Many of the portraits are beautiful but also emphasize the surface of the of the subject over all else. Halsman’s photo of a refugee woman is a full-on glamour shot even though she’s identified as a refugee. August Sander’s Pastry Chef* is surrounded by other portraits featuring similarly larger-faced subjects. In many ways the key image for me is Valerie Belin’s mannequin since it at least admits that the whole gallery is about the superficial.

*Always a joy to see in the flesh. As much as I sometimes side-eye Pier 24’s displays it’s great to just see some of these images live. Also Sanders’s matting is interesting in that it’s just a hole cut in a piece of paper.

Still even in the one or two images per photographer on display I found my self making connections and learning some things. For example I’d never seen an Edward Weston nude of a black model before. And there were a couple common subjects—a Marilyn Monroe photo booth image vs one by Avedon and an Irving Penn Truman Capote portait vs Avedon’s—that are always something fun to compare.

It was interesting to compare the room of portraits to the room of mugshots. There was a wall of women from Philadelphia, most of them black, which ended up being most of the non-white photo subjects in the entire exhibition.* Even though the rest of the mugshots were mostly white subjects I found myself thinking about the ways the photography canon traditionally represents people.

*Curiously the excerpt in the gallery guide was closer to only 50% black.

I enjoyed going from the mugshots to the deadpan portraits room. That half of that room was Dijkstra was a bit unfortunate though. The idea of featuring deadpan portraits as a way of looking at other expressions in the sitter is great. But a lot of the works on display here pointed the discussion toward the photographer instead of the subject.

Which brings us to Alec Soth who probably more than any other photographer represents where Pier 24 has been. Yes it’s an archive of the photography canon but it’s also been a platform for a certain kind of photo project looking at Rust Belt and other communities which are increasingly overlooked by mass media.

I…These have not aged well for me in the age of Trump. I had the same thought last year but every time I see A-list photo projects investigating poor white communities now I get the same hives I get from the endless media profiles normalizing Trump voters.

Industry and Labor

The rest of the show was mostly typical photo subjects. A big room of industry and labor which showed how factories and labor conditions worldwide have changed, or not, over the century from Lewis Hine to today. These were generally good and provided an interesting counterpoint to the studies of modern American Rust Belt decline in that we got to see where the work is going and can think about whose choices are responsible for that movement.

I was struck by Madon Mahatta’s Escorts Factory photo which showed workers in 1964 wearing sandals and no eye protection. Also, amusingly, my brain misidentified a Burtynsky as a Gursky and in a very un-Peer 24 choice there was a solitary Becher image. This wasn’t as weird as the Met’s solitary Becher since at least there were other industrial photos for context but after SFMOMA has had an entire Becher room up you’d think people in San Francisco would know better.

The highlight of the room though was the wall of Renold and Coventry component cards. Both the cards and the components the depict reflect such a different age of infrastructure and industry. We can see the commonality in photos of factories and assembly lines over the years. However the components of the factories themselves and the way they’re inventoried and cataloged are going to be completely different. Looking at the individual pieces takes us into the technology of the time and orces us to think about what specifically those factories were making.

Locations

There was also a lot of photography of locations in the United States—specifically New York City and the American West. As someone who grew up in California, New York City was always a bit of a cliche. It’s nice to see older photos from Winogrand or Friedlander but the way their influence so dominates what a certain genre of photos is supposed to look like is troublesome.

This is especially with a lot of Winogrand’s photographs. I still have favorites but more and more of them look dated and uncomfortable as society’s norms around photography and publishing has become a lot more aware of how intrusive photographers can be. When he’s good he’s great but man are a lot of his images tough to look at now. Friedlander-wise I like a lot of his humor and can look at his cat or car photos all day.

Moving to The West and, while as an East Coaster now I see a decent amount of cliched views, photographers like Robert Adams and Henry Wessel are still doing things that new photographers aren’t trying to emulate. Maybe this is because both Adams and Wessel are just too fucking good or maybe it’s because the western cliches I see from the East are all landscapes instead of cityscapes.

Anyway it’s always a joy to see a room of Robert Adams or Henry Wessel. It’s especially nice to see some of the Adams photos be taken in the same photo session since getting a bit of a primer about how Adams worked a scene and moved around to find the angles is a free photography tutorial in finding the light and exploring the relationships between elements in the frame. Wessel meanwhile is all about that glowing light and the way it produces textures and shadows.

The last bit of photos in this section were of San Francisco. I’m unable to react to them the same way as anything else since these are home to me. While I’m no longer a tourist in New York City, I’m in no way a New Yorker either. But with the SF photos I just end up liking what I’m seeing. Highlights here were Ed van der Elsken, Lee Merrit Blodgett, and Fred Lyon.

Looking Forward

Last room of the show was a room of Adou’s ghostly and ethereal photographs. I enjoy these very much but they seem completely out of place with the rest of the show being so Western.* Adou is someone I saw at San José and just doesn’t feel like someone Pier 24 was showing.

*Yes there’s a couple Sugimoto rooms but since they’re his wax museum portraits of Henry XIII and his wives along with the Last Supper they were very western subject matter.

That said the Adou room is something that points the way forward about where Pier 24 can go as it expands the canon. New artists doing work that doesn’t operate in the same Western traditions or with the same gaze that the rest of Pier 24’s show does. Photos that are more inside jobs than one which centers the Western gaze.

I can appreciate Adou’s work as being beautiful and evoking a sense of cultural pride while also mourning the loss of a way of life. But I know there’s more there than I can ever hope to get. And that’s OK, I can still feel the power of the images without having it spoon-fed to me.

Starting a new set

So late last month Matt Prigge decided that he wanted to clear out a bunch of sets and cards that he’d accumulated for accumulation’s sake. Matt just moved and while he had moved with all his cards, I guess that he realized that he didn’t want to buy enough Ikea Kallax units to get them all his basement floor.

I haven’t gone through such a downsizing yet but it’s coming. I have to get what I have organized first though. But with cards it’s easy to fall into the accumulation trap and taking a step back to figure out what I really like is a healthy activity to do every once in a while.

Currently, aside from my Giants, Stanford, and a few mini-projects, I’ve found that I’m enjoying filling out the cards and sets from my childhood but am enjoying just having samples—preferably Giants or Stanford players—from the other years. I’ve been enjoying building a 1978 set but it’s really the guys from 1987–1994 that I remember best. That’s my youth and all I cared about was baseball and cards.

I had collected complete sets of 1987–1993 Topps as a kid. I’ve been building 1986 since it represents the cards that were in existence when I became a fan and I acquired a couple hundred of them over my childhood collecting years. I only had a couple dozen 1994 Topps for comparison. By then I’d realized that I shouldn’t be spending money on packs if I was just going to get the set. When the strike hit and I dropped the hobby cold-turkey I never picked up any more 1994 Topps cards.

As a result I have no real memories of 1994 as a set. It’s not a design that I liked at the time* and I just didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the cards. But I’ve seen more examples in recent years and have found myself liking a lot of things about it. Plus the players are still the guys I knew and the set itself serves as a bit of commemoration of the single best Giants season I’ve ever witnessed.**

*As an autograph hunter I found myself skeptical of glossy cards since we hadn’t figured out the best way to get them signed. In many ways my preferences for non-glossy cardstock and older-style designs versus the fancy-shmancy modern cards the the 1990s pulled the hobby into is rooted in autograph hunting practicalities rather than any design-based critique.

**Yes winning a World Series is great but there’s also something wonderful about seeing your team dominate the regular season. The sting of getting pipped to the pennant by the Braves still hurts but looking back on it I just remember a heck of a run and pennant race.

So when Matt sent out feelers for who’d be interested in various junk wax sets I said hat I’d be interested if he had a set or partial set of 1994 Topps. The price was more than reasonable (especially since it was coming already-paged) so I sent over the money and a week later (thanks to Thanksgiving) the box arrived.

Yeah they don’t make sets like this anymore. I’m still not sold on the design but it’s not as bad as I remember and the only time it makes itself noticed is on cards like the Brett where it brilliantly mirrors the scoreboard. Photography-wise though this is fantastic stuff. A great mix of close action, distant action, experimental action, quiet candids, and poses.

What I like best is how much stadium detail I get. There’s enough depth of field to see what the grandstands are like. Many of the candids are wide-angle shots that show off all kinds of dugout details.

There are also plenty of horizontal cards too with the same mix of images. These are things we have to look for the photo-specific Stadium Club set to see nowadays and it’s a shame since this set is three times as large and so offers an abundance of photographic riches.

One of the things I like best about the photography in the set is how it allows the photos to remain grounded. We can see feet on the ground and know where the play is occurring. How far off the ground a dive is. That plays at second base refuse to hide the baserunner and bag behind the card graphics. These are cards that have been designed by people who know and understand baseball.

While it’s easy for me to rue my bad luck about getting into cards at the peak of card worthlessness, comparing these to what 1986 Topps looks like allows me to be thankful for being able to witness the incredible improvement in the quality of baseball photography.  Just the fact that I got to see the changes as they happened was a lesson in and of itself.

Anyway, Matt’s cards plus the ones I had already left me 45 cards short of a complete set. Most of those holes are in Series 2, much like my 2014 build. Full list of what I need is here. I’ll also keep an updated list on the set need page but this one will mark my starting point.

155 200 387 408 411 416 417 421 428 442 447 465 473 476 477 480 484 486 528 549 586 589 593 615 626 637 649 662 664 668 670 671 672 677 678 679 688 702 718 733 736 738 750 772

Matt, of course, was not content to just send me what I paid for and instead packed assorted other goodies into the box. Two packs of Topps Baseball Talk are so cool I almost don’t want to open them. Since I don’t have the player I need to go to YouTube to listen to the cards but the cards themselves are pretty cool too. As oversize versions of the 1989 design they feature nice big images and with the record grooves on the back are among the oddest to the oddballs.

Most of the packing though was assorted Giants cards from over the years. Many of these I have but I have two boys who are more than happy to take my duplicates too. I’ve already given them each a 300-count box each of cards from 1960 to  2019 as a house-warming present and need to put together other gift packs of duplicates for them now.

In the batch here it turned out that I was missing a bunch of the 1985 Donruss, 1987 Donruss, 1987 Fleer, and 1988 Donruss cards. 1989–1991 though were my peak years and if there’s a hole in my binder it’s because the card is autographed and so is merely in a different binder.

Which means I fastforward to 1992 here and mention that I’ve never seen those blue Classic cards before. They’re kind of horribly printed but I’m amazed that I’m still finding out about new cards from my peak collecting years.

The 1994 Bowmans are also mostly new (I do not remember this design from my youth even though I had a bunch) and the Upper Deck Fun pack represents a set I never saw as a kid. I’ve gotten some Fun Pack cards in previous trade packages but the Pro Files Bonds card is a completely new one to me as well.

Past the strike now and into cards I never saw as a kid No idea if the red lettering on Pinnacle means anything but all that gold foil still kind of amazes me. The 1996 Donruss Steve Scarsone though is a perfect demonstration of how quickly cards designs went from grounding the action to covering it up.

Instead of looking like a fantastic play Scarsone looks like he’s trying and failing to imitate the Karate Kid. Unfortunately, this school of card design is what Topps does repeatedly in modern cards and it’s noticeable enough that my 10-year-old complains about it.

Getting into the 21st century. Standout card here is the First American Church of Baseball Tim Lincecum. I have no idea what this set or organization is (its Facebook page suggests it is/was a Giants fan club) but it’s wonderfully odd and hand-numbered to 500 on the back.

Also the two Buster Posey 2015 cards are part of the Giants team set and NL All Stars set. Needless useless variants that I refuse to chase. But having a sample in the binder is fu none the less. The only reason I actively want those team set cards is if they included a guy who otherwise doesn’t have a Giants card that season.*

*A few of the hardest Stanford cards for me are guys who only showed up in the team sets.

And finally the 2018 and 2019 cards. I appreciate the Gypsy Queen since I categorically refuse to buy these. Ditto to Gallery. Not my cup of tea even though seeing how they’re made is of interest to me from a technical point of view. Like it appears that 2019 Gypsy Queen cut back on the logo and nameplate stupidity of 2018 and doesn’t feature any areas that look like they were printed in a second printing pass.*

*This is a long-overdue SABR post.

Lastly, buried in the stack of Giants cards was this Bill Swift autograph. I had to double check that this was included on purpose but Matt confirmed that it was. Bill Swift was a good Giant whose two full seasons were good enough that I forget that they were his only two complete seasons with the club. His 1993 was especially fantastic and he fully deserved to be in the running for the Cy Young Award.*

*As an aside, how awful was Jose Rijo’s run support that season since he was pretty damn good in every other stat besides Wins/Losses.

This card in particular has always been one of my favorites since it includes the Giants’ awesome Turn Back the Clock uniforms. I liked this card so much that I got it signed back in the day.

Yeah. This is from Spring Training 1993. And this isn’t a complaint about having two but rather an observation at how much Swift’s signature is different. I’m assuming Matt got his card signed TTM at some point in the past couple decades. The signature there more closely matches the neat signature examples Google pulls up. My card meanwhile is a hasty scrawl while getting into or out of the Scottsdale clubhouse.

Anyway, thanks Matt! I’m looking forward to finishing this set build too.

A Lonnie Mailday

A surprise envelope from Mark Hoyle arrived late last week. When I opened it up I found a couple non-card items that, on the heels of the Jay Publishing mailday, suggest that my collection is crossing from being just cards and is instead getting into card-adjacent areas.

The first item is a 4×6 print of Jim Lonborg being interviewed after the Red Sox won the 1967 American League Pennant. I always like these kind of post-celebration photos* where athletes are still happy but the reality is setting in too.

*There’s a reason I sent the Trevor Wilson card I did.

This one is also a great look at how interviews worked before today’s much-more organized media room press conference table. One interviewer with a microphone plus another mic on a stand and two more being held by disembodied hands belies the relative calmness of the photo.

Mark’s a Lonborg supercollector. While I have a much more casual Lonborg collection due to him being just a part of my Stanford Alumni project, because I’m making customs and things* for my own usage I’m able to send Mark some Lonborg items he doesn’t have.

*This will be a post of its own someday.

This Gypsy Oak custom is an example of other Lonborg customs that Mark has acquired over the years. It’s also a 4×6 print even though it looks like it should be a linocut.* If I remember correctly there are versions of these that are more like postcards and evoke vintage Exhibit/Arcade cards instead.

*While I haven’t jumped into the world of 3D printing yet I’m keeping an eye on it for both linocut/letterpress related printing and investment casting.

I’ve kept my eye on Gypsy Oak’s work for a while* but never pulled the trigger since I’ve been a bit scared to jump down the rabbit hole of modern card-related art. As nice as the artwork looks it’s something that I can see getting out of hand. It’s hard enough to limit my scope with just cards. Including other stuff like this? Where do I draw the line?

*Well until I got blocked on Twitter and he closed his BigCartel shop.

It’s some pretty cool stuff though—especially his Helmar Stamp cards. They just don’t quite feel right for my Giants collection but they very much feel more appropriate for the Stanford one. I’m glad my first is a Lonborg since he’s sort of the first noteworthy Stanford baseball star. Thanks Mark!

Jay’s Housewarming

Last week I came back from picking the kids up at school to find a bubble mailer from Greg/Night Owl waiting in my mailbox. This time he’d addressed it to my new address. It felt “off” when I picked it up. I’ve gotten enough of these now that I know what cards usually feel like. This one was different, sort of more dense and rigid and I was more curious than usual to open it.

Inside I found a stack of over a dozen Jay Publishing photopack cards. I’ve picked up a couple of these over the years but to-date they’re tended to be outside my collecting radar. When Greg received a huge batch of them earlier this year I began to realize that I’d been ignoring some good stuff.

As someone who got back into baseball cards because of photography reasons, these team photopacks are especially relevant because they represent a different branch of the image sharing/collecting culture that started in the 19th century. They’re basic halftone prints but they represent another way that photos circulated.

Unlike cards—whose size and thickness encourages handling—the photo packs are paper and are clearly meant to be put on display or pasted into an album. The ones I received from Greg are all in petty good shape and don’t have any pinholes or tape residue.

Jay Publishing printed these team packs for about a decade. They all look mostly the same with a large black and white photo over the player’s name, city, and team. In 1962 the font changed from san-serif to serif but other than that the only clues for dates are knowledge of the roster and the team uniforms.

Thankfully, Trading Card Database has photos of all the different Giants photo packs so I was able to determine that my stack was a combination of 1961 and 1963 photo packs.

Eight of the photos are from 1961. There are two doubles. That photos are often reused year-to-year makes determining if things are truly doubles kind of difficult. The ones here though do in fact appear to be identical in terms of the photo cropping but from different print runs.

In this batch I particularly like the Sam Jones photo which shows off the spring training facilities and the Bob Schmidt which is just a great image with the mask flying out one corner and his shadow anchoring another. The other four images aren’t bad either.

Of the six missing images it’s no surprise that Mays, Marichal, and Cepeda are among them. The thing I’m most confused by is how McCovey didn’t make the checklist and how Bob Schmidt, who only played two games for the Giants in 1961, did.

The 1963 photos to my eye aren’t quite as nice. Sanford is a bit blurry, O’Dell and Pagan are awkwardly cropped. Hiller’s a decent baseball pose though and Pierce is similarly strong. Haller’s meanwhile isn’t a bad image either but the crotch-eye view is a bit weird for me.

It’s kind of amazing to  compare Pierce and O’Dell though since they’re identically composed and timed but one is great and the other not. The difference in angle makes so much of a difference here.

From these six I’m missing Mays, McCovey and Cepeda this time (Felipe Alou and Al Dark are also missing from both 1961 and 1963). Again, not a surprise since those will be of interest to a much wider audience while  the rest of the players resonate only for Giants fans.

Greg also took the opportunity to clear out a dozen unwanted Giants cards. We’ll start off with a handful of older cards. Many of these I have so they’ll go to the boys. The 1984 Jeffrey Leonard though is new to me and doubles my 1984 Fleer Giants holdings. Yeah. Even though these all come from the overproduction era and represent sets my kids still pull from repacks I only have two 1984 Fleer Giants.

Some newer Giants cards. That Bumgarner All Star is one of the last cards Topps made of him. It’s nice to add it to the binder. The Stadium Club Hunter Pence is also quite welcome since I somehow only had the gold and black foil versions. And that Bergen/Coonrod Rookie Combo card confuses me since Bergen also has his own card in that set.

The last four cards are Archives cards using the 1975 design that Greg loves so much. As a non-collector of Archives I always appreciate getting these in the mail. I like seeing how Topps remakes its old designs even though it typically screws things up in an uncanny valley way.

These aren’t too bad: Team name is a bit small. Autographs are super bold. Colors are slightly off. But all in all they feel about right, especially when I see a group like this where every card is a different color combination.

Super cool Greg. Thanks!