It’s been many, many years. I’ve occasionally photographed a random basketball goal somewhere in one city or another, using the camera on my phone of the time. A driveway, an alley, a park.
And for many, many years, I’ve held an idea in mind that I would intentionally create a photography project centered around basketball goals. I kept waiting. For the courage, for the “right” time, for … I don’t know what.
The idea has revived in the real, as of right now. This morning, it spontaneously started taking shape, not on the energy of long-harbored thoughts but in the enlightening energy of actions.
I went for a bike ride, aiming for an easy 30-minute paved ride around town and nearby county roads. The creative urge caught me when I saw a photograph-worthy scene with a basketball goal. At first, I rode on. I went up the street. But less than a block away, another basketball hoop that struck me as worth a photographic look.
If I’ve learned anything as a creator, it’s to heed the urges of creativity when they spark. Don’t ignore them. Don’t save them for later. The moment is now; the creative spirit has called.
I stopped and photographed the second sighted scene. Then I rode back to the first one. Continuing on a modest 10-mile ride, I would see and capture a moment with several more.
It is a moment, by the way, and only ever can be. Passing, fading, transitioning. The light, the weather, the clouds, the mood. It’s fleeting. Yes, I can go back another time, another day, another season. And that would be good to do, too. But this scene and feel, this thing I’ve been called upon to capture now, will have passed. Never to return.
So, it seems that now the project has begun. On a beautiful, damp, cool morning, with my bike and a wandering spirit without expectations. Just movement of the body, and now of my creative energies. Things are flowing.
I rarely intentionally put things together this way. I don’t know why; I will going forward, based on today’s inspiration. But countless times I’ve told my wife, Becca, “I’m going for a run” or “I’m going for a ride.” I don’t think I’ve ever said, “I’m going for a creative photographic outing while on a ride (or run). It’ll be awesome!”
But I do love when creativity and exercise arise together. Because it is awesome. I left my wife with a quick, “I’m going for a ride,” and came back and started chattering her ear off about my ride. Then I walked back down the hall to the kitchen, whistling on my way to a fresh cup of coffee.
It’s awesome, in part, because each activity takes the pressure out of the intentions of the other, freeing me up to enjoy both all the more. Long trail runs or bike rides with pauses for photography place ease and joy at the center of the adventure, rather than physical training and ambitions.
If I am just riding or running, or pursuing a creative idea like a photography project, it’s easy to should myself into expectations of what success for the outing looks like.
If I’m stopping my ride every so often to enjoy a new discovery and photograph it, then I can’t possibly expect intense, constant output on the bike. And if I’m out for a bike ride, then I can’t expect a photography effort to produce anything in particular either.
The photography just is. The bike ride just is. No expectations, just joy.
Why Photograph Basketball Goals
Basketball goals are such a simple and omnipresent element of life in America.
I grew up with a goal in my family’s driveway. Basketball was my love for many years. As a child, I’d spend hours daily in the driveway shooting, dribbling, practicing alone. Year-round.
In winter, I’d play on the ice, in the cold, in the darkness that swallowed the simple incandescent glows from our porch and driveway lights.
I must have driven the neighbors crazy with the noise. Bouncing and banging. I didn’t have the self-awareness to recognize that at the time, and no one complained or told me to give it a rest.
Seriously, hours every day in that driveway.
Until I was a teenager, when I’d start to play in gyms and on my high school team. I’ve always liked to think that when my neighbors saw me in the newspaper for my efforts on the team, and then I was going off to college with a scholarship to play ball, they’d believe all the countless hours of noise they suffered – the ball pounding pounding pounding the driveway and clanging off the rim – was worth it. That it finally made sense.
In the ~thirty years since, I’ve traveled through too many towns and cities to count in the U.S. and abroad, and basketball goals also get my eye.
On road trips with my wife and our two sons, a basketball court has always been a great rest stop. We have photographs of me and the boys, in particular, shooting together here and there. Someday I’ll round up those photographs, too.
In San Francisco, we didn’t have a ball with us when we encountered an amazing hilltop court with broad views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. No ball, no photographs of us playing. It sticks in my craw that we couldn’t shoot there.
For the five or so years since that missed opportunity, I’ve had recurring thoughts of our family going back to San Francisco specifically to shoot baskets at that park.
I want to – maybe need to – take on this potentially neverending photography project because basketball goals represent something in me, and my youth. It tethers me to a sweet and pure passion I once held, and maybe still do somewhere in there.
Maybe if I tug on that tether, it will lift a bucket from the deep, cool well of my youthful heart and refresh me with something I haven’t quite known I was missing. I can’t put my finger on what it is, though it feels like something of an innocence foregone decades ago. Before so much life, so many ups and downs, so many clouds and questions and distractions.
Beyond me, though, is a sense of how each family’s basketball goal openly betrays something of their shared personality, the way they live(d), the way they engage(d) in a certain period of time in their lives.
How many basketball goals have their moment in time, and then are ignored after the kids have grown and moved on? They become yard art, sculptures silently holding stories of a time gone by, and are looked past and pushed off to be dealt with another day or, maybe eventually, by another family.
I’ve long thought of basketball as a democratic game. It is cheaper to access than other sports. Basketball goals are in parks, even small ones. They are in cities and small towns, they are in urban alleys, suburban driveways and on farms.
They are community hubs, in some places. You go to the right courts in the right cities at the right times, and you’re just as likely to see NBA heroes playing as you are local streetball legends and little-known players from the block, all together. That doesn’t happen with most sports.
I’m interested in basketball goals, because they tell stories. While many of my creative photographic interests lie in the intimacy of closeup photographs (see my portrait and still life galleries), the stories of basketball goals include the scene they live in. Wide portraits of the environment that surrounds the hoop.
I have photographed many basketball goals at closer range, too, in part to show the texture and wear that is unique to each rim and backboard. Most goals are manufactured and distributed by the thousands, but ultimately each gains its own patina, its own fingerprint.
The Project Approach
I had not intended to take on this project with only my phone and luck or regret of timing. I’d thought I would approach it in such a way as to get each owner’s signed permission to enter their property, so I could get the best angle, and wait for the best light, like a landscape photographer must for hours, days, months.
What I accidentally fell into this morning, in flowing with the unexpected moment of each basketball hoop encounter, was to photograph each from the street, from the plain publicly accessible view. From afar, with a wide lens. With the light and conditions of the moment. With my phone. I control nothing but the choice to tap the shutter button.
In some cases, that means being at more of a distance from a basketball goal than I might like. Maybe that even means being on the other side of a fence. But then that itself presents an interesting contrast in the scope of the project. It creates questions, and takes me back to the notions of accessibility and basketball being democratic, a sport for all.
What does it mean for a basketball goal to be in a short driveway that adjoins an alley? Or a long driveway that runs through a sizable property with a sizable house?
Or one that is mobile and placed facing the street or an intersection, as if it’s available to the neighborhood? Or one that’s posted in a backyard, behind a privacy fence?
How about if the goal is in a large driveway, flat and paved? Or in a side yard or barnyard, grown over and uneven?
Creatively, there is simplicity and constraint in the process if I only use the camera on my phone. What will the quality of the images be? How large might I be able to print these photographs? How well can I focus where I intend to focus?
These are questions worth considering at the outset of a project, so I don’t end up getting down the road and wishing I’d made different choices, ones that can’t be changed later.
But I appreciate my ongoing struggle for simplicity, creatively and humanly. And how much more simple can it get than to happen onto these basketball hoops while I ride my bike, or run or walk, and accept the moment that presents itself to me?
And to capture the photographs in the lighting and circumstances that exist in that moment, just as the basketball goal lives it, hour by hour, season after season, only with the limitations of my phone?
I have photographed basketball goals over many years and in many places. The digital files are scattered here and there. It will take me time to dig up what I have collected incidentally along the way, not having viewed them as part of a larger idea.
And why did I make those occasional photographs, but not consider them part of a project already in progress? Because I got in my own way, with my self-limiting requirements for a perfectly conceived and executed idea that required ideal equipment and circumstances, precise rules and intentions.
So many creative projects have been undone by such egoic, fearful notions. Pointless.
With that in mind, today marks the unintended intentional start of this project. And with recognition that action is what matters and what got me to where I needed to be today, while on that bike ride.
Action. Not holding onto an idea and waiting for the “right” time.
The time is now. The creative spirit has called.
View the Basketball Hoops gallery.