Ball Play

A project on the streets of London, New York and Escanaba, Michigan

June - December 2002


Over a period of six months, I approached people in the street and asked them if I might photograph them, holding a large red ball. My request was more unusual but less personal than simply asking if I might take their photograph. To simplify the encounter, I used a disposable camera. I approached people at random but probably still tried to choose individuals who I thought would respond positively to my request. I found that approaching people in pairs or groups was less confrontational than approaching single individuals. Pairs could discuss between them the merits of the idea rather than having to debate it with me, a complete stranger. Tourists, policemen and people with children usually said yes.I took the photographs in three places I know: London, New York and Escanaba, a small town in northern Michigan. In London, I said I was doing an art project (leaving open the possibility that someone else told me to do this daft thing). In Escanaba I had a more favourable response if I said I was an artist and described the project more fully. In New York I had difficulties, both because it was winter (making the red ball seem even more ridiculous) and because any approach on the street was met with well-practised initial suspicion.

When posing for a photograph, we often dream up silly things to do to cover our embarrassment at having to ‘look natural’ in such a contrived situation. In Ball Play, I provided the ‘silly thing to do’ and asked people to improvise as co-stars, with the Red Ball, in a brief drama.

Looking at the photos in a group, the Red Ball seems to bounce from image to image. The photographs are the reverse of the seaside painted sets where the person places his/her head in the hole and provides the ‘character’ in the scene. In this case, the ball is the ’character’ and the participants provide the surrounding set. For the viewer, the ball is the entry into the photographs. Each person is of less interest (as they are, after all, strangers) than the question: what happens to the Red Ball?

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