Sports photography can be tricky to master. You want to capture the movement and the broader aspects of the game/event, but without overwhelming the viewer. On the other hand, you could be Pelle Cass and want as much chaos as possible.
Based out of Boston, Cass’ series “Crowded Fields” shows sporting events at their busiest and most packed through the use of edited images. He attends college games for a couple of hours, snapping hundreds, even thousands of photos. Once he’s done, he’ll spend hours editing them together until they’re a flurry of bodies and poses.
Despite the high level of manipulation and sheer number of layers (over five hundred on Photoshop), Cass ensures each subject is in the same pose they were when the picture was taken. He told Colossal that he “scroll[s] up and down, over and over looking for figures I think are interesting. It’s a little like slow-motion Tetris, trying to fit various shapes into various spaces. Then, with luck, a set of coincidences or a kind of gesture or spatial idea begins to emerge.”
The result feels like something straight out of an I Spy or Where’s Waldo book. Dozens of figures dot the page, each vying for the viewer’s attention. It’s a bit disorienting, yes, but also fascinating. A story begins to unfold and, even without context, the events of the game become clear. It’s clear plenty of work went into making an image comprehensive despite the sheer whirlwind of activity.
And Cass has spent well over a decade honing his skill. He’s been a photographer for nearly 50 years, with his current muse being a more recent development. “I think that conventional single-exposure photographs distort by their inhuman briefness. The eye never sees a single moment,” he explained. “When you come home from a hockey game, you might remember a few specific images of big plays, but otherwise your memory of a game is a bit more like a general impression of many-figured bustle and activity.”
While “Crowded Fields” might be his most recognizable set of works, he’s expanding on the concept. A similar series depicting urban life called “Selected People” is currently ongoing. Until early October, he’s on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art as part of the “Shifting Light: Photographic Perspectives” exhibit.
For those who are interested in trying their hand at Cass’ style, try following his “Eight Commandments of Photography*”:
- I don’t change a thing and I never move a figure or doctor a single pixel. I simply decide what stays in and what’s left out.
- My work looks real because it is real, even though it’s based on a trick.
- I use Photoshop to increase imperfections, not remove it.
- When I go out to photograph, I like to have a plan because I can always bag it when I get back to the studio and do something completely different.
- I try to have some context so I’m not just taking pictures in the dark, as it were.
- I never pass up the chance to make a joke, visual or otherwise.
- People tend to clump, so I look for birds and little kids to fill the high and low spots.
- If twins happen to wander into frame, I always leave them in so people think it’s a Photoshop trick.
Whether or not you have a decade to hone your craft is up to you, but they’re a good general guideline to make your own long-exposure creations. Maybe they’ll end up being just as fascinating as the originals.
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*Source: Creators on Vice