Dutch Football, Sports Photography, Franklin Foer, Carl Gilbey-Mackenzie, Eric Stolz, William Blake, etc.

Dutch football may seem like an odd note to kick things off on (pun intended, haha), but i've been reading this book called "Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football", by this guy David Winner. It's about how Dutch football is a reflection of Dutch culture and society and everything. At one point during the chapter on how Dutch players use space differently from others players (which, according to Winner, is because the Dutch in general see and use space differently -- I think because their country is so small and they're very big, and have to build a lot of dykes and so on), he talks to this Dutch photographer who takes pictures at football games. Only they're not sports pictures, they're, like, art pictures. But they're not all arty either. They're really about the football, showing key moments in the game from a panoramic, TV-style view. This part's really interesting:

Van Der Meer has taken memorable photographs of Ajax matches too - but never from the traditional photographers' vanatage point at eye level behind the goal or on the sidelines. He perfers to work high in the stands, ususally near the halfway line, from where he aims to capture what he calls the "moment of tension." His deep-focus, pin-sharp images freeze the game, the crowd, and the trees and clouds beyond the stadium. Although his pictures are taken from a similar angle to that of TV cameras, they capture something quite different. 'Football is a game of space, so why should you leave the space out?' he says. 'Every Monday in the newspapers you see the same stupid, boring closeups taken from behind the goals with long telephoto lenses which distort the space. Those pictures show you the football siutations but you have no idea what they mean. Two players fight for the ball. So what? Where on the pitch are they? In the 1950's we had different pictures, more interesting photographs of the crowd, wide-angle pictures of the game. The closeups tell you so little. When the sports photography archives are opened in a hundred years, there will be a whole part of the history of the game missing because all the interesting little things around the pitch were simply not photographed...Newspaper picture editors always say its much more dramatic to have a closeup. That is bulshit. The problem is basically they don't understand football, they don't know what they're looking at. Of course, yes, it is nice also to have closeups, to see footballers looking like heroes. But you need both kinds of picture.'
I never thought about it like that but it's totally true about how lame the pictures that newspapers run are, and how they totally fail to capture anything interesting or important about the game.

What's also cool about all this -- both Van der Meer's pictures and Winner's book -- is that it's actually interested in what's going on in the game, not, like, the socio-economic background of the fans or whatever. I mean that can be interesting too, but it's nice to read serious sports writing that's not afraid to get its hands dirty. Very little sports writing is both A) willing to treat sports as a serious cultural subject, etc, AND B) actually concerned with the nitty-gritty of what happens on the pitch. Too much serious sports writing does A but not B. One thing that sux about Frank Foer's (I'm allowed to call him Frank not Franklin because i once received an email from him, after i had written him a long and rambling message taking excited issue with a minor point he made in a New Republic Online piece about the European Championships) otherwise annoyingly good "How Soccer Explains the World" is that, for all the fascinating ways that he shows football bound up with local political, religious, social, and cultural issues, he doesn't seem to actually like football all that much. I mean, I'm sure he likes it. You'd have to, wouldn't you, to go to all the games he went to and so on (that sentence sounded very Hornbyesque, btw). But, beyond the pedestrian observation that the Italians play a defensive style called catenaccio (which means 'bolt', like a lock) he has nothing to say about the action on the pitch. Maybe this is unfair, because that would be a different book (my English teacher when i was 11, Mr. Carl Gilbey-Mackenzie -- about whom regular readers will surely be hearing more in future posts -- once wrote at the bottom of an essay in which I had criticized the film "Mask", starring Cher and a young Eric Stolz, that my objection -- the substance of which remains lost to me -- was like saying "I like chocolate but why is it not toffee?") So anyway, maybe it's like that, but it's a shame that Foer's not so interested in the on-field action because (as Winner shows, both in "Brilliant Orange" and in "Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football", his possibly even-better followup which does the same for English football as B.O. did for Dutch -- although maybe it's only better because the English are more interesting than the Dutch, or maybe I just know more about them -- and whose title, brilliantly, refers to William Blake's "Jerusalem") it's on the field, and in specific tactics and styles of play, that much of the best material for the sort of clever socio-cultural observations that we all so love can be found.

As Matthew Yglesias would say, "All Done".