Non-sport fun

While most of my non-sport cards are pre-war I’ve been quietly grabbing a few post-war cards as well over the past year or so. Very much following my same instincts of trusting my gut. These are a bit more random than the cards I featured in my Cold War Cards post and don’t have the same historical interest that those do. At the same time they’re very much an extension of the kinds of things I like in my pre-war cards.

I have one 1951 Bowman Jets Rockets Spacemen card because I just love the artwork. The space-age architecture in the background and the vivid flames from the rocket are fantastic. The framing with the rocket leaving the card is also great. And I like that this set tries to tell a story. The idea of cards being a narrative medium is one which doesn’t get explored enough.

A pair of 1952 Topps Look and See cards because I realized that I should have the George Eastman for hobby intersectionality reasons. As a photographer, I know of Eastman and Kodak as legends for their integral role in the technological history of the medium. When I was looking a the cards though I saw the P.T. Barnum card for cheap and couldn’t pass it up.

The backs of these do the red-filter thing where the answer to the trivia question is only revealed if you make everything orange. I’ve gone ahead and done it digitally*

*For anyone who cares. Eyedropper the background orange color. Add a new layer. Fill it with the orange. Set it to “multiply.”

A handful are from Topps’s 1955 Rails and Sails set. In many ways this is similar to the pre-war Wills Speed set in terms of is appeal. It’s not about the fastest vehicles but is instead key innovations in the design of the technology.

As a train lover I’m very much interested in the Rails portion of the set. The Southern Pacific Daylight Streamliner is the same engine pictured on the playing cards Anson sent me but it’s also a route which I’ve travelled on and photographed. The Union Pacific card, besides being a beauty of a card (though not as dynamic an image as the Santa Fe card in the Wills set) reminds me of climbing all over the Union Pacific rolling stock at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.

The Trolley card though I especially like because it’s a New York trolley which reminds me of how the Dodgers got their nickname. Yes this trolley is a couple decades more recent but still close enough in terms of the type to be the kind of a thing a Dodgers team collector might want (or avoid for nemesis reasons).

And finally how could I pass up a Junk card. We talk about “junk wax” so much in this hobby that I had to have a literal Junk card just for laughs. If I didn’t know these were the same set though I’d’ve sworn that this came from something completely different. Vastly different type. Full bleed instead of borders. And of course a completely different subject matter.

Looking at the backs confirms how different the boat cards are from the train cards. I really like the train designs with all the train graphics and the technical information about the locomotives. The little trivia panel in the top right corner is great and the card numbering is fantastic.

The 1961 Topps Sports Cars Ferrari card was just too cool to pass up. It’s a bit of a Ferris Bueller reference though the car in that was a 250GT California not a Spyder. There is a California card as well but it’s not red.

Anyway this is a fun set which I can see trying to put a page’s worth together from. Lots of classic cards in there plus as oversize tallboy cards I’d only need 6 for a page.

I couldn’t believe that this was only a couple bucks. I’d’ve thought that 1960s Bruce Lee cards would be in much higher demand but maybe they’re just not well known. This is from the 1966 Donruss Green Hornet set which has a lot of fun photos and a nice simple design. The back is a puzzle so I didn’t scan it.

And finally, a handful of 1969–70 Topps/O Pee Chee Man on the Moon cards. These are also hobby intersectionality in that three of them are explicitly photo references. The card of the camera is pretty straightforward but the Earthrise and Earthset cards are in the mix for most influential photographs ever.

Really wonderful to have them in the trading card album whatwith how I treat baseball cards and trading cards as an integral part of photographic history.

Common Culture vs Hegemony

Back in summer I found myself in the lucky position of being able to present the SABR Baseball Card Committee’s Burdick Award to Jim Beckett. This wasn’t just in my capacity as co-chair either. As a member of the Beckett generation of card collectors, I was a good choice to not only introduce him but also thank him for creating a common culture which continues to bring a generation of card collectors together.

I haven’t found any better way to explain the role that baseball cards had to my generation than to mention how my Junior High had a baseball card club. In my introduction I got a few gasps when I said I had never purchased a Beckett but in many ways it’s the greatest compliment to how successful and important they were. I never needed to purchase one since they were always around. At the club. At a friend’s house. In a classmate’s backpack. I’m pretty sure I read very one of them for a few years.

That level of shared culture and how I’ve found it from my entire generation of collectors on Twitter is super cool and I absolutely mean it when I say that Beckett was a huge positive force on my childhood and my memories of childhood.

At the same time, Beckett is also a huge part of why I burned out and gave up on the hobby. No, I didn’t mention this part in the presentation but it’s 100% true. As much as I remember Beckett with absolute fondness which evokes a wonderful period of my childhood, I also remember it as the authority about the “correct” way to collect which drove me away from the hobby.

There’s something entirely appropriate about the 1980s setting up a price guide to become the cultural zeitgeist but the increasing focus on “investing” and rookie cards was tiresome then and is tiresome now.* Yes it’s fun to share interests. But when everyone wants the same cards because everyone else wants those cards things get pretty boring pretty fast.

*Beckett’s homage to the 1980s was fun but also missed everything I loved about those cards.

It’s a fine line between a shared common culture and a hegemony.

Do I love collecting cards? Absolutely. But I want to do it my way. Put together collections I’m interested in. Value them for what they are not for what someone else will pay me for them. And show those collections to other collectors. One of my favorite things is seeing the weird and wonderful collections people put together and hearing why those collections are the way they are and what they man to he people who collect them. That’s where the common culture is for me.

It’s not arguing over the definition of  a rookie card. Trying to collect the same hot players as everyone else. Or focusing on how much something is going to be worth next week or next month.

This applies to so much more than cards as I’ve seen it with watching movies or taking photos where things slip across the line from being something that’s fun to do for yourself and share with others to become something where there are rules and a wrong way of doing things.

A lot of this is definitely bad actors on the internet but I also get the feeling that much of my generation grew up being told what was good, what to like, and how those two walk hand-in-hand. Not inherently awful as long as you learn at some point that it’s okay to like things that are bad or unpopular and it’s just as okay to not like things that are good or popular.

Sadly, a lot of us have been unable to grow out of that education and, whether it’s seeking the comfort of liking things that everyone else likes or feeling threatened when someone critiques something that everyone is supposed to like, manage to turn a lot of the stuff that should be fun and sharable into an activity in groupthink.

I love seeing takes on things that force me to reconsider my opinions. I love discovering stuff because someone else is so passionate about it that it inspires me to learn more about it as well. These are all much more exciting ways to enjoy hobbies than receiving a list of rules about what I’m supposed to do and what’s supposed to be good.

Art Card PC

William Klein died on the tenth. As a photographer he managed to combine street photography with fashion and really nail down how a photographic glimpse can suggest movement and mood. He also has a bunch of photographs of 1950s kids in New York, of which “Gun 1” may be the most famous.

I wrote a little about “Gun 1” and how it represents how we grow up, absorb, and reenact crime stories a few years ago but it was another Klein photo that came to my mind first when he died.

William Klein, “Baseball Cards”, 1955

Much like “Gun 1,” “Baseball Cards” is a photo of kids hamming it up for the camera and indulging in American mythology. Only this time it’s not a mythology of violence. Instead it’s baseball, baseball cards, and the way you want to show off that you have a card of your hero.

While a lot of art sites date this photo as 1954–1955, any baseball card collector will immediately identify the cards as 1955 Bowman. A quick check through the couple dozen light-bordered cards shows that the featured card is Yankee Gil McDougald. This is perfect for a photo taken in New York City.

I tweeted out a RIP from the SABR Baseball Cards account and included an image of “Baseball Cards” because the number of times cards show up in art is pretty small. Then I promptly realized that for some reason I’d never considered getting a McDougald card despite being an art/photography junkie. Mark Armour promptly offered to send me a copy before I had a chance to even go to COMC.

The card arrived a week ago. Turns out that this was Mark’s only 1955 Bowman duplicate so there’s a certain amount of kismet involved here. It’s fantastic and you can see that it is indeed the card which is featured in the Klein photograph. McDougald is also not a player whose career I’m particularly familiar with but looking up his stats I can see that he’d absolutely be the kind of player a Yankees fan would be happy to have. A very good 10-year career, 6-time All Star, and a key part of 5 World Series championships and 8 Pennants.

I still need to identify the other card in the Klein photo* but this is joining a bunch of 1979 Topps cards in my Art Card mini-PC. This isn’t cards as art but cards that show up in art.

*The current leading candidate is Randy Jackson. That Jackson and McDougald are both pretty low numbers on the checklist also suggests that the kids might have their piles sorted by number. 

The 1979 Topps cards of course are the cards that show up in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anti-product Baseball Cards. I mentioned a checklist in my post where Marc set me a few of these but I may as well put everything here.

William Klein’s “Baseball Cards”

☑︎ 1955 Bowman #9 Gil McDougald
☐ 1955 Bowman #87 Randy Jackson

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anti-product Baseball Cards

☐ 1979 Topps #58 Bob Randall (JERK)
☐ 1979 Topps #82 Mets Team Card (checklist)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #196 Steve Kemp (HOT DOG)
☐ 1979 Topps #315 John Matlack (Wally)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #343 Ed Glynn (BUS PASS)
☑︎ 1979 Topps #445 Steve Henderson (JOE)

I currently can’t think of any other cards for this PC—maybe the pair of Pete Rose 1985 Topps cards even though Andy Warhol’s print doesn’t match either of them—but I’m hoping more will come to me. Until then this is a fun thing to have going on in the background.

San José Museum of Art

One of the things I haven’t done much at all of since COVID hit is go to art museums. I went to an exhibit the weekend before lockdown in 2020. I went to my next one in March this year. The fact that I haven’t yet written about the exhibit I went to earlier this year* indicates how out of practice I was.

*Yes I’m still working on it.

I’m not going to treat  museum visits as something that needs to be blogged about in order though.  If anything I’m going to do the reverse and try to say on top of other things while letting the old post languish. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

Anyway, I went to the San José Museum of Art last week. I’ve made no secret about how much I love this museum. Despite living on the East Coast I maintain my membership in San José (that the reciprocal benefits package is outstanding does help here) and enjoy visiting the museum itself whenever I can.

Pebbles and Kelp, Point Lobos, California, 1965

I visited primarily to see the Brett Weston show. Weston is one of those photographers where I generally can’t bring specific artworks to mind but who I must have grown up looking at in various Bay Area museums. I know I’ve seen his work in San José and Oakland but the degree to which so many of the photographs in the show felt familiar to me was uncanny.

It’s not that I’ve necessarily seen these specific images either. His approach to photography and the way he notices textures and contrasts is something that I clearly grew up looking at and absorbing. Do I take photographs that look like Weston’s (or even try to copy him)? Not really. But that when I’m out with a camera this is the kind of stuff I’m seeing and looking for.

Worm Tracks, California, 1937
Rock and Pebbles, Pebble Beach, California, 1976

What I love about his work is how it really is just about the contrasts and recognizing where those contrasts are. Sometimes these things are fairly obvious like where an insect has bored, the difference between wet and dry rock, or reeds and their reflections on a still body of water. Other times you have to see the potential and recognize how paint, puddled water, leaf veins, or pan grease will not only convert to black and white but what color the contrast is going to be in and how to filter for that.

It’s a wonderful way to see the world and the fact that Weston spent decades taking basically the same kind of photo shows how deep it goes.

He’s clearly a very adept printer who is able to print things super contrasty without crushing the hell out of his shadows or blowing out his highlights. Lots of details still in the deep blacks and bright whites as those tones tend to dominate the image but there are still midtones present as well. At the same time he’s fearless of letting things become silhouettes and abstracting them to just shapes. Lots of good lessons to learn and be reminded of as I process my own photos.

Mono Lake, California, 1966

San José has a few landscapes on display as well. I don’t find them as interesting but you can still see how he uses silhouettes and deep shadows in them and how he’s trying to find larger scale textures in the sand or the surf.

Sadly there was no catalog available. Looks like I need to set up a reminder to save up for a Lodima book—likely Abstractions 1 or Abstractions 2—since I do love those prints.

Also at San José

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1957

San José also had a small exhibition of works from its collection that represent the connection the museum has to the community. It’s this connection which is why, despite living in New Jersey, that I choose to maintain my membership. Of all the museums I visit,* San José is the one that consistently displays artwork which feels relevant to both my interests and to local interests.

*Or, given the pandemic, visited.

So yeah, walking in to the room and seeing Jay DeFeo, Robert Arneson, and Hung Liu brought a big smile to my face. Nice to see some local favorites in  my first visit to the museum in three years. Hung Liu in particular feels especially poignant and relevant given the last three years of perpetual foreignness and the demonization of Asian Americans that hase accompanied the pandemic.

I also got to take a really good look at Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral which I’ve seen a lot over the years but haven’t taken a good look at since I moved to New Jersey. It hits differently now as I’ve gotten to know New York City better and have a better recognition of the items in the boxes and what process resulted in them being there.

Stephanie Syjuco, Chromakey Aftermath 2 (Flags, Sticks and Barriers), 2017

I also discovered some new-to-me works. I remember Stephanie Syjuco’s International Orange Exhibition years ago but I had not see her Chromakey Aftermath photos. These are very clever in how they erase the content of various protests—suggesting both ways that we can digitally change the content to suit our politics and how aware we have to be when viewing images of protests so that we’re not snookered by something that’s been faked digitally.

Judy Baca’s Raspados Mojados* was another new to me artwork. It would’ve fit in perfectly in the Mexicanismo show but I’m glad I saw it here. She’s mainly a muralist but using the raspa cart as a mobile mural of sorts is a great way of bringing her work into the museum itself and using a mechanism of Mexican labor to tell the story of Mexican labor.

*Better photos on her website.

All in all a very good visit. Neither exhibit is particularly large but together they hit the spot as I work myself back into museum-going form.

Unexpected connections

A couple days ago I published a bit of a rant on SABR about 2022 Topps Heritage and how lazy its greenscreen photography was. While I try not to go too negative in any of my blog posts sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyway that post was in many ways a lot of words padding an animated GIF that could have been posted by itself and made the exact same point.

After I made my SABR post I realized that 2020 Topps Heritage used the exact same background on a dozen cards as 2022 Heritage did and have expanded the GIF to include all 24 cards. It’s worth noting that the 2020 cards have much more variance in the zoom and cropping of the backdrop (even removing the light standard in one of them) which goes a long way in making the backdrop not nearly as obvious.

Anyway, one of the best things about Twitter is  the way that it encourages people to respond to tweets with things that my observation reminded them of. In this case, Ross/@design_on_deck pointed me toward a fantastic video about post cards which all use the same sky.

While I don’t at all think that Topps did any of this with the level of intent that Dexter Press did, the video reminded me about why I got interested in cards and how they interact with my more-professional interests in photography and print production.

Photography and the way it has been distributed as mass media and informed our visual literacy is indistinguishable from trading card and post card history. Looking through those items and seeing them together in sets or collections is a way of seeing how we used to see and learn about the world. This is the reason why I collect the pre-war cards that I do and I absolutely love digging through piles of postcards and arcade cards at antique shops.

That the Bechers were brought up in the video is perfect. I’ve long admired their work but hadn’t made the connection to their typology grids and the way that I organize trading cards in binder pages. In many ways, the very act of collecting cards and other printed ephemera is an exercise in typologies—especially the further I get away from organizing by number, team, or player.

While I usually bias toward having pages of variety, there’s something wonderful in a clean grid of images all featuring the same sky or red shirt photography. My Candlestick Pages are one such typography which I collect. As are my multi-image action images. I’ve seen other people collect cards which feature catchers, bubble gum, double plays, broken bats, cameras, kids, etc. In many ways all of us trading card collectors are making our own typologies and seeing the different ones is one of the best things about Card Twitter and the way people share their collections.

That’s not the only connection that happened though. After two different artificial cloud discussions I remembered Eadweard Muybridge and his particular skill at artificially adding clouds to his landscapes before he became the animal in motion guy.* Because early photographic emulsions were primarily sensitive to blue light, skies ended up being completely white in the prints.** It was commonplace to add them back in when printing and Muybridge excelled at this.

*Bringing us right back the grids of small prints.

**Blue sensitivity means that there’s no difference between something being white because it has lots of blue or being white because it’s actually white. As a result, clouds disappear.

There’s a fantastic article by Byron Wolfe about both Muybridge’s clouds and how his different prints were often different composites. Wolfe is a frequent collaborator with Mark Klett in rephotographing and putting old photographs into a larger context so seeing his approach to Muybridge’s work is great.

It’s also a reminder that compositing is as old as photography itself. As long as we’ve been using cameras we’ve been messing with the images to improve upon the scenes or create things that aren’t actually there.


Almost two dozen years ago I took an introduction to photography course in college. These were always popular but one of the nice things about being a design major was that priority was given to anyone who could use the course as one of their requirements. My instructor was Lukas Felzmann, at the time a relatively new lecturer but who’s still teaching today. He was good. I imagine that beginning photography is simultaneously wonderful and a drag. Great to introduce students to art. But you also have to suffer though what students think Art™ is and how they think it should be discussed.

He had a pretty loose hand in the class. Simple assignments like a self portrait or creating in a sequence of 5 photos. I was shooting a Nikomat FTn with an ancient 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens and we were doing all our own development and printing in the darkroom. I never liked developing. I loved printing though and miss the magic of seeing things emerge in the developer.

Class mainly involved looking at photos. Getting a basic introduction to the black and white canon. Looking at our own work. Us talking about what we liked. Felzmann talking about why things were noteworthy. He also did something very cool in that he showed us his own work. Not in a sense of “I’m so good” but in a sense of fairness. Art class is kind of a scary thing because you have to put yourself out there with every assignment and it’s nice for the teacher to include themselves in that.

I’m surprised at how much of his work I remember now. Camera obscura stuff which he was doing at the same time as Abelardo Morell. Weird little sculptures of string, sticks, and rocks which he created in the field as subjects for large-format photographs as well as in the gallery to be displayed with the photographs.

And then there were his bird photos.

Lukas Felzmann, Swarm

A large part of his presentation consisted of photos of flocks of birds. Highish contrast so the birds were mostly silhouetted agains a flat grey sky. I don’t think I quite understood them at the time. As much as they invited careful looking (I remember him being passionate about little details in the frames such as how they look almost bomb-like when their wings aren’t extended) they didn’t grab me as photos.

Flash forward a dozen years and the photography bug has not only bitten me really hard but I’m actively viewing, taking, and writing about photographs. I’m even taking photos of birds* which means that I’m spending even more time just watching birds fly—sometimes solitary, other times in flocks.

*Oof that blog post has not aged well as the changes WordPress has made to how linked images work have torn apart all my careful HTML sizing.

And yeah Felzmann’s bird photos came back to me whenever I would watch a flock of birds do its thing. The ones by my work were countershaded so not only were the flocking shapes interesting they shimmered as the birds turned and I got a glimpse of their white undersides. But I remember seeing  flocks in the city taking off of building tops and casting shadows of mirror flocks on the building sides as they swooped around.

Many times I’d just watch and forget to pick up my camera. Other times I’d try and take a photo and be disappointed with every single frame. Every. Single. Frame. Part of this is a lack of skill. Another is a lack of equipment. But the largest part was actually the mindset that I had to get it right in a single image.

Around this same time I noticed Felzmann’s book had come out. I added it to my Amazon wish list because it reminded me of where I started as a photographer and I felt it would be nice to own a memento of those years. But I also had a suspicion that the finished project would be much more up my alley than it had been when I was an undergraduate. It took another decade years for me to actually get the book (too many books, not enough time) but I finally go it as a gift last Christmas and was very pleased to find out that my suspicions were correct.

Lukas Felzmann, Swarm

My problem when I was a student and when I was birding was that I was operating in the mindset that each photograph needs to be of something. Yes, many of the photos in the book are beautiful frames in and of their own accord. But that’s not the point. As a group? That’s where the magic is.

Felzmann realized that filling a book with a series of swarm images is the best way to convey the experience of actually watching the swarm. This isn’t a moody book like Fukase’s Ravens; it’s joyous in the way that watching a flock of birds swarm is one of those things that makes you feel alive because nature is so beautiful.

There are images of swarms in the landscape. Images which are edge-to-edge birds. Images which are only a couple birds. Images where the birds are strong distinct silhouettes. Images where the birds are almost lost in the atmospheric haze.

Lukas Felzmann, Swarm

We’re invited to look closely but the images also hold our hands in this. Multiple pages of the same framing with just the flock changing gives us a sense of movement. Other times it feels like we’re zooming in and getting right into the middle of things so we can notice details we didn’t notice before. Like those aforementioned bomb shapes but also “intruders” in the flock which are both disrupting and causing the flock activity.

It’s a book that works as both a slow deep look and a quick skim but in both cases is something that offers a whole host of new observations each time. I can’t point out to any individual images or moments that caught my attention. Instead it’s the way it made me feel and reminded me of those moments where, despite carrying a camera which was intended to help me focus my observation, I just forgot myself and watched nature unfold.

Lukas Felzmann, Swarm

I’m a bit upset at myself that it took me this long to get this book. It would’ve been useful a decade ago in terms of guiding my birding photography and it definitely would’ve been useful in guiding my editing. It is however a nice thing to realize that I can still learn from my photography instructor decades after taking his class.

Even though I’m no longer really birding, this approach to a project and how it can capture the feeling through multiple images rather than anything specific is one that’ll stick with me. And as I’m putting family photos into albums I’ll also be keeping similar principles in mind.

1938 Bowman Horrors of War

While we tend to use ~1941 as the cutoff for what cards we consider to be “pre-war,” I’ve never fully felt comfortable with that date. A large part of this is due to the fact that I consider World War 2 to have started in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria. The fact that the 1938 Gum Inc./Bowman Horrors of War set exists underlines this point. The set is full of scenes from what is actually World War 2 in China and the proxy World War 2 which was the Spanish Civil War. It even ends with series of cards about Hitler and his impending threat to world peace.

There’s no way I can consider this set to be “pre-war” even though the hobby categorizes it as such. I’ve come around to treating the pre-war category as actually being pre-VJ Day since there are pretty much no releases after 1941. Drawing the line at 1945 avoids all the issues about deciding when the war began.

Maybe I should just start calling them pre-nuke or pre-Little Boy instead.

Anyway I had to pick up the card of “pretty Gerda Taro” being run over by a tank since I apparently can’t avoid the cards which intersect with my photography hobby. Besides stuff like Mike Mandel’s Baseball Photographer Trading Cards* or the few cards that can be credited to specific photographers there, not surprisingly, isn’t a lot of overlap** here.

*Of which I have a Lewis Baltz.

**Instead I’m sort of searching for cards like the T218 Edward Weston which happen to have the same name as famous photographers. There’s also a PCL player named Paul Strand who has both an Obak and some Zeenut cards.

Taro’s life and work kind of got subsumed into the Capa mythos to the point where I first learned about her as Capa’s romantic partner rather than as the photojournalism pioneer she actually is. I don’t think I’m alone on this though since her work has only really been displayed on its own accord in this century.

Looking at her work turns up a few images I’m familiar with as well as a bunch of contact sheets from the Battle of Brunete where she was mortally wounded. Those sheets are all 35mm film and correspond with the fact that by this time she was shooting a Leica which looks nothing like the giant camera depicted on the card front.

Aside from depicting war and the camera looking more like the Graflex Dorothea Lange used to shoot,* the card looks pretty great. Bright and colorful with a lot of detail crammed into a small frame.** I kind of love the explosion details and how the card manages to capture the chaos while also depicting a specific moment.

*Taro shot a TLR which produced square images on 120 film before switching to 35mm. She never shot 4×5.

**The same 2.5″×3″ size as Gum Inc’s Play Ball cards.

Despite how striking they look, I have no real desire to get more of these. I’m glad it’s called the Horrors of War but when my reaction to them is superficial instead of what they depict I have to rethink my motivations. Also I kind of refuse to chase any set that puts me in a position where I’m looking for cards of Hitler.

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.


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.