Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ball Park is a smart, diamond of a photography show debuting at the North Carolina Museum of Art. This is the 25th anniversary of “Bull Durham”, the classic American film about two men, Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, and a woman, Susan Sarandon, and a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. That and simply sitting in the stands at a baseball game last summer inspired this project.
It is a home run.
“BCS” has been organized by Sam Stephenson (“Dream Street“, “Jazz Loft Project”) commissioning photographers Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas, Hiroshi Watanabe, Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey, and Jeff Whetstone, to chronicle the sights and sounds and stories of the 2013 season at the minor league Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The mix is winning.
NCMA is working in partnership with Raleigh’s CAM (Contemporary Arts Museum) and American Tobacco Campus’s Crowe Lobby Gallery which will show additional photos and videos by artist Ivan Weiss in the coming weeks. This is a solid showing of the possibilities for institutional collaboration.
Alec Soth’s large, lonesome portraits are particularly strong, ballplayers in the outfield and nearby fans, single figures full of empathy, caught by this artist’s unique regard for the individual in the crowd.
Hank Willis Thomas’ “A Futile Attempt to Take a Portrait of Everyone Who Attended the Last Regular Season Game” looks at the mass of attendees at the Durham Bull Games, with grids of wallet sized snapshots. The images were made in collaboration with a number of other photographers all working on their iPhones, with the edit made from the over 3,000 portraits that were shot.
Jeff Whetstone, North Carolina based and internationally known, has a striking and well received set of black and white hieroglyphic-like studies baseball card scoring, pencil line squiggles and cross hatchings, abstract, alien and inscrutable.
Alex Harris, another well known artist from the North Carolina “Triangle” (Chapel Hill – Durham – Raleigh), is represented by informal portraits, sharp, intense explorations with color, very different from Leah Sobsey’s timeless, almost blown out with light, tintype portraits of Bulls staffers.
The pleasure here is in the range of these Sarandonesque seductive commissions.
Frank Hunter takes a dramatic look at light poles in crepuscular skyscapes. Hiroshi Watanabe and Kate Joyce look closely at baseballs, the objects themselves, The former works in classic black and white still life and the latter, with her “Impact of the Ball and The Outfield Wall, Part I”, seeks the odd imprints from line drives hitting the left field wall at the Bulls Athletic Park and other unexpected typologies .
The project director, Stephenson, a highly regarded W. Eugene Smith expert, is having serious fun here. He was based for a number of year at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke and now seems to direct his energies from his Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials, based in Durham, “a new platform from which to perform documentary work” <www.rockfishstew.org>
Daylight Books – Taj Forer and Michael Itkoff – will publish the forthcoming book with an essay by Adam Sobsey.
Bull City Summer
February 23 – August 31, 2014
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC 27607
May 15 – August 31, 2014
Contemporary Art Museum
409 W Martin Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
Bull City Summer
Published by Daylight Books
Available in April