a quick tale of two boys who achieved the first part of a late spring/early summer goal. one (not pictured here) made it to NYC, as an intern at Hearst Publishing, settled into a room at NYC and will spend the next 3 months becoming something he wasn’t before he left Lexington. my heart is full for him. amazed at his guts and talent it took to get himself in the position to be there. he’s already won and doesn’t even know it. the second, pictured above, helped his team make it through the first round of the Kentucky State Cup. his team had a tremendous first weekend, executing 15 goals while giving up zero, zilch, nadda. he finished with a pair of goals and 3 assists on the weekend and some massive center midfield play in some important matches. so for a pair of boys, a nice weekend on the way to bigger missions as the summer progresses. forward they go. i just try and get a few pictures of it.
this photo is a classic example as to why i’m just not really a good photographer. no patience, no willingness to watch the scene unfold through the viewfinder, no intellectual moxie when it comes to “the decisive moment.” i guess that is why there are always too many words to accompany the images around here. always searching to explain the context of my clicks of the shutter.
you see, without the context, this is just two boys running, in soccer strips, happily across the green grass. the photographer (me) is in the wrong position, behind them, missing the joy in their faces. i’m also too far away and the frame is basically uninviting. but when you know the context, or i should say, “because i know the context,” there’s something more to the image. this moment is part of a series of moments, some photographed, some not, that included sixty-eight and a half minutes of soccer, a struggle, falling behind, tying the score late and then a game winner before the 70th minute that secures promotion next season to the top league available for the team.
only seconds before this frame was captured, my boy managed to find the back of the net with 21 other boys crowded into the box. and with the goal, he sprinted out of the crowd towards the other end of the field in exaltation with teammates streaming behind. this shot captured him and the first kid to him on the sprint, touching his back in congratulations sure, but there’s so much more than just that. context–team, brotherhood, competition, battle, family, victory, relief it’s all there, i just didn’t do my job showing enough of it. but i assure you we both won’t forget the context, with or without the good photography to prove it.
in a little more than a week, old boy #1 moves to NYC for 11 weeks for an internship in the very real world of publishing. proud, oh, I am. amazed at the courage he has, oh, i am. this week i am going to cram in a bunch of photography, it’s been awhile since i actually took a photo of him that wasn’t hurried and with a phone, some words, but only about what an adventure he will have and maybe a hint of things hidden in the cracks of the city. i can’t wait for him to live and learn in what is the greatest city in the world. i know his dance card is full and his life is transitioning to one of his own, the way it should be. but none of that ever lessens the size of the lump in my throat.
we, as spectators, get spoiled by professional athletes, musicians, artists, actors, dancers, etc. by how they make their chosen craft look effortless and at times just plain, easy. but we’re smarter than that right. the hours of practice, sweat, blood and want make it so much more than we could ever see.
so many different scenarios during the struggle are what truly make it “the beautiful game.” it’s never just goals or magical touches, sometimes it’s just about strength, will and physics.
i don’t claim to be much more than a sports fan, i’m no expert on the intricacies of what it takes to be “next level” but i do think upon thoughtful study of sport, be it soccer, basketball, football, tennis, volleyball – you get the point – the ability to accurately anticipate opponents’ intentions is a requisite skill that separates “great” athletes from “good” athletes. youth soccer players with that ability to see the next play before it develops, then willing that play to develop are the game changers. it doesn’t happen at the same rate with young footballers, it’s a process to have a team get that mind-meld where they all begin to anticipate what’s next and react accordingly. i know as a fan, it’s sure fun to watch it come together. it’s art.
when you have the ball in soccer, basketball, football, well, in any sport where you have control of the ball and you dupe the opposition with a move, a fake, a feint and they fall for it…we call it “breaking ankles.” you know, like “hey, i just broke that kid’s ankles.”
i have a thought pertaining to art, music, sport…
if you are any good at all, then you know that you can be better. i played some football in my youth, screamed in a band, took some photos, talked for hours a day on the radio, made some art, wrote some words, basically i failed at a whole litany of “things.” i can honestly say i was never that good at any of those “things,” but i was good enough to understand that i needed to improve, and that i could. now with young boys, there’s an ego, there’s a “i’m the best at this” attitude that helps drive them. you never want to smother that, but you do want them to understand that there really never is a “best.” you are in charge of pushing yourself to this unobtainable notion of an invisible measuring stick. now, you can use stats, or the eyeball test, or success as a gauge in anything your are doing but none of those things truly can give you a scale to mark your personal “better.” i am proud that boy #1 and boy #2 manage to push themselves to be better in so many ways. there’s maturity there that i didn’t possess at their ages when it comes to drive and fortitude. that’s kind of a big deal. it’s serving them well.
when i snap a frame at a soccer match, i think i am trying capture a story in 1/500th of a second that speaks to “getting better.” i doesn’t always work, it maybe never works as a public narrative–but to me, what i see here is a boy, who looks more like a man, compared to the opposition. he is running towards a ball not in the frame, and he has already beaten a pair of kids mentally, they are giving up, he isn’t. he doesn’t know they have, he doesn’t care whether they have or not. he has focus, he is finding a maturity. he sent me a text the night before a full weekend of soccer matches, it said, “i don’t even care. like i literally could be playing against college kids or a 2-year-old. i really don’t care at all.” he is making his soccer game, about his role, not about others. he’s getting better.
“We’re living in a funny world kid, a peculiar civilization. The police are playing crooks in it, and the crooks are doing police duty. The politicians are preachers, and the preachers are politicians. The tax collectors collect for themselves. The bad people want us to have more dough, and the good people are fighting to keep it from us. It’s not good for us, know what I mean? If we had all we wanted to eat, we’d eat too much. We’d have inflation in the toilet paper industry. That’s the way I understand it. That’s about the size of some of the arguments I’ve heard.”
—Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me