Thursday, January 8, 2009

From the b/w archives:

Shooting sports with a Yashica-D

Above is one of the first sports shots I ever took. I was in college, taking a photography course required for my journalism major, and decided to see what kind of shots I could get with the class-issued Yashica-D camera at a flag football game on campus. Harry, my sophomore year dorm roommate, was playing in this game; he is the quarterback in the above picture. I was standing along the sidelines when Harry dialed up a down-and-out pass play that ended up coming right at me. I was fortunate enough to capture the ball in flight; as I remember, the receiver did make the catch.

The twin-lens reflex Yashica-D (pictured) entered the market in the early 1950s and was out of production not long after we trained on these in college. It was considered a "break-in" unit affordable for those interested in moving into medium-format (medium-size negative) photography because of the large images it provided (compared to negatives provided by the smaller 35 millimeter cameras already more popular by this time). The Yashica-Ds shot 6cm x 6cm frames (2.25 inches by 2.25 inches) on 120 film (we used Kodak Tri-X) and was equipped with a Yashikor 80mm f/3.5 lens. With such large frames, photographers could squeeze a lot of material into a picture -- if they wanted it. Sometimes, though, they didn't want so much, like for a portrait. So because there was no zoom option, photographers had to move forward for tight frames, or backward to take in more subject matter ... much like photographers do today when using any prime (fixed focal-length) lens.

It wasn't until I developed the film and made the contact sheet that I realized that not only did I capture the neat ball-coming-at-me-in-flight, but also got two unexpected nuggets -- the gleam of sunlight off the car behind Harry and the grossly mismatched pass-rush battle on the far right. Good thing Harry was so far over to the left; I don't think his undersized teammate could have staved off that defender for very long!

Below is another sports shot I took with the Yashica-D in about the same time period. I had brought the camera home to shoot some pictures of family. I took it to the playground of a nearby intermediate school, where my brother, Pete, was playing two-on-two pickup basketball with two neighbors and an interloper we knew from grade school. Pete's the one taking the shot, on the far left; the interloper is defending. The fellow on the far right, who lived across the street from us, went on to play on the local high school team as a center. I don't think he made the team because of his agility, or scoring or rebounding prowess, as much as he did for his size and eventual bulk (as I recall, when this was taken, he had just begun a growth spurt that would max out at somewhere around 6-5 or 6-6).

Pete and I used to play basketball at the playground a lot, and snowy weather was not an obstacle, as you can see in this shot. In Wisconsin, where we grew up, you get a lot of snow in winter, and it made playground basketball more interesting. After particularly heavy snowfalls, we'd bring shovels to remove just enough to move around and create a path to the basket. Besides, a good snow would slow down a stray ball rolling away from the court!

I don't pretend that this is a spectacular image; it's not. Plus, the quality of the print itself (from which this scan was made) has suffered a bit through the years. That gray area in the sky is not a twister moving in; it's undoubtedly evidence of inadequate time in the darkroom stopper or bath (and, yes, I did the lab work on these). Nevertheless, it has preserved all these years ... and it was taken by that classic Yashica-D.

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