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|| News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

Sports Photography Books You Want From Santa
(Or What To Buy For Yourself When You Return Other Crappy Gifts)

By Brad Mangin

Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Photo by Norbert von der Groeben
There is nothing I like better than to get my hands on a new photography book. Those of you who know me know that once you get past all the goofy artifacts in my apartment like game used bats from Mike Ivie, John Montefusco and Champ Summers, and a wooden stadium seat from Dodger Stadium you will find two large bookcases full of photography books.

I started buying photo books when I was in college in the mid-1980's when The Day In The Life series was big and I never stopped. Since then I have rounded out my collection with many hard-to-find used books by Robert Riger to go along with the newer collections by Neil Leifer and Walter Iooss. I also try and fool myself into thinking that I wanted to be a serious photographer by having a few books by James Nachtwey, Peter Turnley, David Douglas Duncan, James Stanfield, Robert Frank and Eugene Richards, among others.

I love to spend time hunting down new books and looking at them to get inspired the next time I go out and shoot. Whenever student photographers ask me for advice and wonder what they need to do to get better and grow as photographers I always recommend that they look at as many pictures as they can and spend a lot of time looking through great photo books.

Yes, there is nothing quite like Christmas time when many new sports-related coffee table books hit the stores begging me to purchase them and then causing me to wonder when I'm going to need another bookcase to hold the new purchases.

This year there are three terrific new books out that every sports shooter I know would love to be able to add to their collections: "The Best of Leifer" by Neil Leifer, "Game faces: A Collection of Our Greatest Baseball Portraits" by The Sporting News and "Park Life: The Summer of1977 at Comiskey Park" by Peter Elliott.

Following are reviews of the above mentioned books that should convince you to beg your mom, dad, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or boss to get you for Christmas this year. If Christmas comes and goes and you find your coffee table still empty, then go out and buy one of these books as a post - Christmas gift to yourself. You deserve it!


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"The Best of Leifer"

By Neil Leifer. Hardcover, 256 pages, 173 pictures. 11 1/4" x 11 1/4" Abbeville Press, September 2001. $75.00 (retail), $52.50
(A link to this book on appears at the bottom of this page.)

Leifer has produced many fine books in the past (his first book "Sports!" published in 1978 is a classic), one of which you might already own, but his latest compilation, "The Best of Leifer" is one you won't want to miss.

Many people forget that Leifer was a staff photographer for Time Magazine from 1978-1990, before he worked for The National (after spending 18 years at Sports Illustrated). Because of this he has included many non-sports pictures in a major collection for the first time.

During his career Leifer has photographed everything from the 1958 NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium to a formation of F-18 marine jet fighters over the burning oil fields of Kuwait. Leifer has even smoked a Cohiba with Fidel Castro in Havana.

Leifer has gathered news pictures from Vietnam and the Gulf War, along with others of Charles Manson, Ed Koch, Fidel Castro and Ronald Reagan - all together for the first time.

Leifer has many amusing anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book that give fun behind-the-scenes glimpses into the different shoots. One of my favorites is when he talks about trying to photograph Charles Manson for a Time essay in 1982 called "The Inmate Nation." Leifer struck out in his first attempt to photograph Manson in his Vacaville, CA prison cell.

In the book Leifer says, "A week later, however, I got a call from a stranger in California, and I'll never forget our conversation."

"Is this Neil Leifer? Well, Charlie asked me to call."

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
"Charlie who?" I asked.

"Charles Manson. Charlie wanted me to let you know that he likes you if you come back he will let you take his picture."

After that call Leifer made the only picture ever taken of Manson in his cell.

Joining the news pictures are many of Leifer's classics that have been seen over and over again (Ali vs. Liston, Vince Lombardi & Jerry Kramer, etc.) along with many fantastic pictures from Leifer's files that have never been published before.

Among the new pictures that stand out is an unbelievable remote shot from Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in 1962 during a game between the Packers and 49ers. Leifer mounted a Widelux panoramic camera, which took 140-degree pictures, on the goalpost crossbar (this was when the crossbar was on the goal line, not 10 yards back in the back of the end zone like it is today).

Photo by
Since there was no motor drive he could only shoot one picture before climbing up a ladder during halftime or a timeout to advance the film. To fire the camera he buried the cable release wire (this was WAY before PocketWizards!) under the turf. The resulting picture that he made of the 49ers kicking an extra point could never be made today.

Another favorite picture that I have never seen was shot on the Battleship New Jersey in the Gulf of Tonkin, North Vietnam in 1968. This amazing picture shows two shells being fired as they leave the big guns on deck. Leifer writes that although it looks like his timing is incredible, he really couldn't miss getting the shells in his picture. Before any of the sixteen-inch guns fired a buzzer sounded and Leifer could then start his Hulcher sequence camera, which shoots fifty frames per second. Every sequence he shot had at least one or two frames that included the shells.

If you don't already own a Leifer book you should make this your first one. Even if you already have some of his books you should add this one to your collection just to see all of the new unpublished sports pictures and news pictures you never knew he shot together for the first time.


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"Game Faces: A Collection of Our Greatest Baseball Portraits"

By The Sporting News. Hardcover, 224 pages. 11 1/2" x 9 1/4" McGraw-Hill Publishing, October 2001. $29.95 (retail), $20.96
(A link to this book on appears at the bottom of this page.)

The folks at the books publishing division of The Sporting News have been cranking out new books every other month (or so it seems). Their latest effort, "Game Faces", is definitely one of the best they have ever produced. TSN has one of the greatest historical libraries of baseball photographs that exist and they used it very well in this book thanks to their famous pioneer photographer Charles Conlon who documented the game and its stars from 1904-1942.

This great new book combines some of the classic Conlon portraits with terrific contemporary portraits shot mostly by TSN staff photographers Albert Dickson and Robert Seale, whose portrait of Pedro Martinez graces the cover.

In "Game Faces" you will see some wonderful comparisons between old-time ballplayers and current stars like the terrific spread on pages 112 & 113 when you see Roger Clemens dressed up in and old-time uniform in 1999 by Robert Seale next to a 1914 shot of Walter Johnson by Charles Conlon.

Another favorite is the spread on pages 174 & 175 featuring very tight shots that make you look into the eyes of two legends who will be forever linked together: Cal Ripken Jr. in 2000 by Seale and Lou Gehrig in 1927 by Conlon.

Photo by
Also compared are legendary stars from the past along with current stars from the same team, like Derek Jeter and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, Ted Williams and Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox and Albert Pujols and Stan Musial of the Cardinals.

This book brings out more than just the stars of baseball. There is the wonderful series of portraits of "The Clown Prince of Baseball" Max Patkin, photographed by Albert Dickson in 1996. You will also find a nice series of Negro League stars spread out over 12 pages by Dickson.

All in all this book is a must for baseball fans. The simplicity of Conlon's available light black and white work contrasted with the well-lit color portraits by Seale and Dickson make this book something very special. Long-time baseball fan and book critic Michael Zagaris calls "Game Faces" the book of the year.

The only thing that could have added to "Game Faces" would be some anecdotes by Seale and Dickson about what it took to get some of these guys to pose for them. I would love to read Seale's account of Barry Bonds blowing him off for three days before he agreed to give him a few minutes at Candlestick Park in 1999 for a cover story on Bonds being named TSN's Player of the Decade (pages 61 & 163).


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"Park Life: The Summer of 1977 at Comiskey Park"

By Peter Elliott. Hardcover, 117 pages. 15" x 10 1/2" Paper Mirror Press, May 2001. $60.00 (retail), $42.00
(A link to this book on appears at the bottom of this page.)

The most unique of the three books I am reviewing is undoubtedly "Park Life." This oversized masterpiece of full-page black and white pictures is not really a sports book. It's a book of people photographs in the great city of Chicago who are passionate about the Chicago White Sox and their long-time home, old Comiskey Park.

Peter Elliott is a Chicagoan and long-time commercial photographer whose first love remains street photography. Elliott spent most of his days and nights during the summer of 1977 wandering the aisles of old Comiskey, photographing the fans instead of the game on the field.

In the book's introduction Elliott says, "I was just aimless, I guess, not really sure about what I should do with my life. I knew I wanted to take pictures. I was just drawn by the old Comiskey. Maybe it was all of the people in one place day after day, the excitement. The park was old by then but in its grit and rust there was a certain sad reality. It seemed to me to be a part of a Chicago that was starting to vanish and I wanted to capture that."

We should all be very glad that Elliott wanted to capture Comiskey that summer and even more glad that he found his black and white negatives a few years ago after being left untouched for more than 20 years.

The 1977 White Sox were managed by Bob Lemon and featured fan-favorites like Eric Soderholm. The club made a pennant run during the summer before settling for a 3rd place finish as 1,657,135 fans poured through the turnstiles breaking their attendance record set in 1960. Many of these fans are featured in Elliott's book.

In "Park Life" you will see all types of Sox fans: young, old, ugly and drunk. They are doing everything from standing for The National Anthem to smoking cigars and cigarettes to passing out in the bleachers.

Old Comiskey opened in 1910 and shows its age 67 years later as Elliott's pictures show the many years of cigarette butts, peanut shells and grime that had collected. What's really astonishing is how battered the old wooden seats appear throughout the book.

Photo by
I wish I had a Comiskey seat for my collection (there's a nice one in the lobby at Don and Charlie's in Scottsdale that I might be able to "borrow" in spring training). The yuppie fans at Pacific Bell Park would have a hard time sitting themselves down in these seats, but it would make the beer lines much shorter!

The black and white pictures in "Park Life" are all printed beautifully full-frame with carved-out negative carrier borders. The print quality is terrific and the reproduction and paper quality is outstanding.

Associated Press Picture Editor Tom Gallagher has this to say about "Park Life" - "I love the incredibly beautiful prints. It's nice to see photographs that people take simply for the joy of taking pictures, as opposed to the age-old discussion of how to survive in this business. Books like 'Park Life' remind me of what photography is all about."

Photo by
Elliott says in the introduction that the rediscovery of these pictures and the gathering of them for this book have reminded him what it was like to shoot pictures for the simple joy of it; to, as he says, "just grab a camera and hit the street."

What the heck. You've worked hard all year and put up with a lot of crap from Little League parents and goofballs on the Raider sidelines. Treat yourself. Buy all three!

(Brad Mangin in a freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you have any new book recommendations Brad would like to hear from you:

Related Links:
The Best of Leifer
Game Faces: A Collection of Our Greatest Baseball Portraits
Park Life: The Summer of 1977 at Comiskey Park

Related Email Addresses: 
Brad Mangin:

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