Thanks to Thomas Boyd on the APhotoADay email list, I got wind of the Oregonian‘s “Uneven Playing Fields” package covering the 2008 football season of both a wealthy and a poor high school in Portland. I’m usually not one to look at much sports photography (there’s no real action in this, anyway), but that’s not the point of this essay. Instead, photographer Bruce Ely, with help from Thomas Boyd, Motoya Nakamura, Ross William Hamilton, Steven Nehl, and Randy L. Rasmussen, use the unequal football teams as a window into school funding, the No Child Left Behind legislation, community issues, and the difficulties (or not) facing high schoolers in a tough economy. It’s a great approach, and there’s a subtle touch at work here; the piece doesn’t judge or grandstand. The students from the wealthy high school (The team has 4 medical professionals at every game, raised $21,000 from parents and community members at the beginning of the season, plays on a school bond-funded field, just built a $75,000 video playback room, etc…) don’t appear spoiled or undeserving. And the students from the poorer school (They exercise using discarded car tires, haven’t had a paid physical trainer for a few years, use public transit to get to games and practices, work in jobs that interfere with practice and play schedules, etc…) aren’t shown as needy, sympathetic underdogs or noble heroes struggling in some Oscar-begging “Mr. Holland’s Football Opus” dramedy. The pictures present the facts, and the difference is stark. Clearly, community matters and the hurdles that many people face are astronomical. While a couple of individual photos may be lacking, the piece is great overall and well worth a look. It’s also a reminder of how an old subject (high school football, school funding, wealth) can be photographed in a new way.
Looks like the Oregonian has a photoblog, too.
(An aside: Be patient with the interface. As we’ve mentioned here before, it seems to be a law of the internet that websites with photography must have different but equally unusable interfaces. This one’s no different; why one would use flash to present photos and text is beyond me.)