Photographer B.A. Van Sise brings us the before and after of sport in his series Sweat. With these double portraits, he offers a close look at the drive of players from the Knicks to the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League.
Well, for starters, I don’t like sports.
I played baseball as a kid, if one can call what I did “playing.” Mostly, I stood out in the outfield and held my glove in the air and prayed to the love that moves the sun and all the other stars that nobody would ever hit the ball in my direction, which invariably everybody did. If such a thing is possible, I’m pretty sure I would have had a negative batting average and my teammates—a group of post-pubescent murderers who all hated my tiny, non-hitting, non-catching, non-running body—would clearly have preferred to use me as a backstop.
I’d return home from my games, open the hamper, toss in my uniform covered in tears and goose shit, and listen to Edith Piaf music.
It’s a shock I never made the majors.
Years later, while working my first big newspaper job at Newsday, the sports editor would be forced—when the rest of the staff was sick, vacationing or dead—to send me to photograph sporting events. I have a deep-seated admiration for sports shooters; I know a lot of them, and am constantly dazzled by their work. Sports work is the hardest kind there is for a photographer, and not the kind for me. I’d spend a couple bored hours taking pictures of where the ball or puck was or wasn’t, hand in the work with my fingers crossed, and go home, open the hamper, throw in a button-down shirt covered in tears and goose shit, and listen to John Coltrane.
Last year, a buddy of mine convinced me to go see a New York Cosmos soccer game with him. He was a leader for the group of Cosmos hooligan fans who attend every game, and he told me that I should come down, if only to yell at strangers for ninety minutes. As a good and loyal New Yorker, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to fight with strangers for hours, so off I went—and I was marveled.
The players on the field never stopped moving. They ran and slid and fought and looked like men who’ve been through a war. When they lost, I imagined their homes, their hampers, their jerseys, and their bachata music.
So that’s how it began. Since then, I’ve been visiting with athletes of every stripe to try—situation and weather allowing—to photograph them identically: first, arriving to an event, and later walking off the field just seconds after they win, lose, or quit for the day. The personalities, I’ve noticed, vary in culture from one sport to next, but one thing pervades the lot of them: a desire to prove themselves. To go faster. To work harder. To do more. At a certain level, every sport seems to turn into a game of inches, and all of those who most impressed, it seems, were still thinking about much greater distances.
I called it Sweat, because I was pretty sure the Peabody Essex Museum wouldn’t let me name it, well, Goose Shit.
Look for more from B.A. Van Sise’s Sweat series in February.