For the last two years, lyrics from a favorite song have kicked off my official busy season at KU. Two years ago, in the first month of this blog, Stephen Stills’ So Begins the Task summed up the coming of the hectic times. Last August, the Chambers Brothers’ Time reminded me that “Time has come today.”
This year, lyrics are still important and come from one of the greatest bands of my time, Cream. There is a twist. Pete Brown’s lyrics needed a few changes to represent where all the action gets started in my White Room.“In the white room, with no windows, by the training room,” is the way I would ask Eric Clapton to start it.
My KU studio is a very simple affair. Created from a portion of an old handball court, the court’s floor boards and all the walls are white at my request. It sits right across the hall from the athletic training room.
Mine is a high volume operation. I am not a portrait photographer in the classic sense. The light is well-balanced but simple. The white background allows quick changes for a variety of purposes. I want everyone to look good. Skin blemishes are always cleaned up. I try to flatter everyone, but I always have to keep in mind that turnaround is essential.
Last Monday, KU’s volleyball players arrived for their portraits, the first team of the coming school year. Walking into the stark room, the athletes face a proven truth of photography. Most people hate having their picture taken. In the few short moments I spend with the hundreds of athletes I photograph each year, I learn a lot about what kind of year I can expect from the athletes and, in turn, from the teams.
Let me take you through the steps. I outline exactly the needs for each person that comes into the studio. Over and over again, “There is a mirror if you would like to check your hair. Please print you name on the sheet. Take a seat on the stool in the direction of the arrow. Turn you head to me. There will be three photos. Relax and smile. I will tell you before each one. Here is #1. #2. And #3.”
Funny, how so many do not hear a word. They want to know if there is a mirror. The sign-in sheet gets overlooked. One missing name or a name out-of-order can really mess me up. Proper identification is critical. Many will sit completely opposite of what I have asked. The worst remind me that “you better make me look good.”
It is always easy to pick out the freshmen. They understandably are nervous. Even the most self-assured freshman men’s basketball player uses bravado to mask the reality that they still do not know how all this will work out. How wonderful it is to see each grow and mature over the four to five years I photograph them.
Sadly, some of the many athletes begin to take on a sour countenance over the years. Some enjoy the college life a bit too much. Others have boyfriend or girlfriend problems. There are injuries and grade issues. Relating to coaches can be difficult. Sadly, some are just worn out from years and years in their sport. Forced smiles reveal the pain in far too many faces. That is never fun.
Fortunately, the vast majority are absolute delights. I enjoy seeing their faces every year. Their smiles are broad. There is a self-confidence they display sitting on the stool in the white room that carries over to the field or court. However, all these portraits are just the start.
Immediately after the studio session, my lights move quickly to the volleyball arena for team photos, position photos, class photos and any other media guide needs. In my mind, the importance is in the creative end. In all the coach’s minds is the importance of getting this done quickly. Coaches realize the importance of these photographs for historic and recruiting needs, but the allotted time is short. Being creative on very short notice is one of biggest parts of my job.
These weeks quickly fill with work day after day. Besides the usual football group photographs on the turf, individual photographs of each player in their new super high-tech adidas jersey and a portrait of each player with coach Turner Gill for each player’s high school filled the afternoon. That adds up to a lot of production work and many late nights, but it also means having some fun shooting the people who are such a help to me starting with my wife and all the great people from media relations.
For the next two months the cycle never ends. Seven days a week, there is always something. I love it all no matter how much I moan or how weary I grow, and we have not even come close to games and matches yet.
Let me close then with a few more lines from Cream’s White Room. No need to change these lyrics. “I’ll wait in the place where the sun never shines; Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves.” Until the next team arrives. That means I better wrap this up. Cross country is on their way to my White Room.