Thursday, September 10, 2015

NFL Rookie Goals for the 2015 Season

Back in May, I was tasked by the NFL to photograph portraits of a select group of players from the 2015 rookie class.  As I began to conceptualize my portraits, I tried to think of a way to make a memorable project for both myself, and for the rookies.  Since it was going to be the first time that many of them would be wearing their uniforms, I knew that it was just more than a typical portrait shoot, and that they would undoubtedly be excited about getting their picture taken.   In my head, I wanted to come up with something that would be meaningful to these guys, along with something that would be able to show the world what goes through the mind of someone turning pro and achieving a lifelong dream. 

I had recently bought a Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo classic instant camera.  Many of you might know this as a “Polaroid” camera, although technically it is not, it’s just easier to understand when associated with that name.  It is an instant film camera but is made by Fuji.  For years, Fuji has had a niche audience on the instant photo market with their Instax cameras, and I believe that even they’ve surpassed Polaroid on becoming the “new polaroid.”  I like the concept of the instant print, but I never really wanted to own what looked like a "toy camera."  It wasn’t until I saw the Instax Mini 90 Neo classic that I was sold on it, especially since I have wanted a Fuji X100t for so long, but could not get myself to splurge on it, so I had no problem spending $150 for a smaller, cuter version that looked kind of like it.  There are a few differences between the Neo classic and the regular Instax camera.  The first is that it has two shutter buttons – one for vertical compositions, and the traditional horizontal shutter that everyone is used to.  The second major difference is that it has the ability to take multiple exposures, which I thought was a fun addition, and that's one of the main reasons I decided to buy it.

A double exposure is a technique in photography that allows you to take two exposures, and combine it into one frame.  There are many creative things that I have seen done with multiple exposures, and many of the current digital SLR cameras have this feature as a built-in feature.  To do it on film, however, is a different challenge because not only do you not have the luxury of having unlimited exposures with digital, but you don’t really know what you are going to get because there is no preview, and therefore less forgiveness in composition.  The camera has an optical viewfinder, which is not 100%, which means what you see when you peer through the hole is not exactly what the resulting photo will look like.  It is definitely a challenge, especially given the small size of the photos, and when you are asking players who are already on a tight schedule to be patient as you take multiple exposures, and then ask them to wait for the photo to develop and process (and if you're wondering, yes, many of them did "shake it like a Polaroid picture"). 

Photographing Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota with a Fuji Instax Neo Classic 90 camera

The print is about the size of a credit card, and I selected this medium specifically because I wanted to be able to give the players something that they could keep with them.  As you know, there is a small white space on the bottom (in vertical orientation) or on the side of the photo (in horizontal orientation).  Before I began shooting my  portraits for NFL, I asked the players to begin thinking of a single goal that they wanted to accomplish in their first season as a pro.  When I conceptualized the idea for this project, I remembered something that someone once told me about achieving your goals.  Regardless of how big a goal might be, it helps to set small, achievable goals for yourself.  I simply wanted the rookies to set a single goal.  When I asked them to think of one, many of them admitted that they had not set any goals yet, but a few had already had some goals in mind.  The bottom line is that I wanted every one of them to have something to reach for this year, and I intended for them to keep the photo so that they'd always remember their hopes throughout the year, and throughout their careers. 

Since this was somewhat of an extracurricular project and not my actual assignment, my main concern was first getting portraits of the players.  After shooting their "real portraits," I introduced them to the concept of my project.  For each player, I had to make at least two prints – one for me, and one for them to take home with them.  Sometimes the initial images didn't come out the way I wanted them to (see Leonard Williams below), so I worked at it multiple times before I was happy (they all kept the better-looking ones).  Some players were really open to sticking around to make sure I got what I needed, which was great.   For the double exposures, I came up with the idea to photograph their team logos as the second image.  Since I was short on time, I had a library of each team's logo saved on my computer, which allowed my assistant to pull up the logo on the computer whenever a new player walked in to have his picture taken.  I then moved from photographing the player to my computer screen and shot the logo on the screen.  In hindsight, I probably could have done something a little more creative, or even had a print of the logo made so that I wasn’t eyeballing the composition from my computer screen, but time was tight, and I felt that it was most practical for me to pull the images from my computer and photograph the screen directly.  Given the challenge in composing two exposures accurately without a true preview, I ended up with a lot of photos where the players' faces were covered up.  As I mentioned before, the challenges of accomplishing a successful double exposure under these conditions (especially when each sheet of film costs money) wasn't easy.  Since this an experimental process, I didn’t place too much stress on the mistakes.  After being disappointed with some of the early results, I eventually scrapped the idea of the double exposure, and got down to the true essence of the project - to get the guys to set a goal, write it down, and have something meaningful to take home with them.  As a result, some of the final images might not be the most visually stimulating, but I hope that you can appreciate the personal nature of the images.  

New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams reviews his instant prints.  You can see the third one is still developing on the table.
Overall, I feel that it provides a small look into the minds of these guys.  To me, it is cool just to see what their handwriting looks like!  These are little things that make them more human to me, kind of like that time at the Pro Football Hall of Fame when I saw my childhood hero Emmitt Smith eating a sandwich (yes, they do normal-people things).  Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I had a chance to photograph the Hall of Fame game this year between the Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I saw one of the rookies I photographed back in May – Stefon Diggs, who had a reception that almost led to a touchdown.  I walked up to Stefon after the game and he remembered me.  I told him not to forget about his goal for this season, in which he replied that he has not forgotten.  I told the players to keep the photo with them in their locker, or wherever they need to come back to it easily for inspiration throughout the season.  I have no idea whether or not they will do it or not, but the fact that Stefon remembered, offered a little bit of validation to the project.  It's also something that I hope made their first shoot in the NFL a memorable and meaningful experience, and it is meant to be something we might all look back on in 10 years and see how things turned out.  I carried over the idea when we celebrated my son's first birthday a month later, and I had our friends and family take a photo with the Instax camera, and write down a goal that they would like him to achieve in his life.  Naturally, I had them pose for two photos, so that they could keep one, and we have the other copy in a scrapbook for him to see when he grows up. I digress...

Ok so NFL football is here again!  As the 2015 season kicks off today, I hope that every one of these rookies has a successful season, and achieves all of their goals one at a time, beginning with the ones they set back in May.

Take a look at what they wrote down (most of them, at least), in their own words.

Oakland Raiders WR Amari Cooper

Detriot Lions RB Ameer Abdullah

Baltimore Ravens WR Breshad Perriman

Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley

New York Jets QB Bryce Petty

Baltimore Ravens RB Javorius "Buck" Allen

Kansas City Chiefs WR Chris Conley

Tennessee Titans RB David Cobb

Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson

Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker

Carolina Panthers WR Devin Funchess

New York Jets WR Devin Smith

Tennessee Titans WR Dorial Green-Beckham

Cleveland Browns RB Duke Johnson

New Orleans Saints QB Garrett Grayson

Houston Texans WR Jaelen Strong

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston

Washington Redskins WR Jamison Crowder

Miami Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi

Chicago Bears RB Jeremy Langford

Atlanta Falcons WR Justin Hardy

Buffalo Bills RB Karlos Williams

Chicago Bears WR Kevin White
New York Jets DL Leonard Williams (take 1)
New York Jets DL Leonard Williams (take 2)
New York Jets DL Leonard Williams (take 3 - I really wanted to nail down that tattoo exposure)
Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota

Washington Redskins RB Matt Jones (He wrote over his face, "1000 yard rusher")

Baltimore Ravens TE Maxx Williams

San Diego Chargers RB Melvin Gordon

San Francisco RB Mike Davis

Philadelphia Eagles WR Nelson Agholor

Indianapolis Colts WR Phillip Dorsett

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Rashad Greene (that is a photo of the Virgin Mary tattoo on his arm)

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Sammie Coates

St. Louis Rams QB Sean Mannion

Minnesota Vikings WR Stephon Diggs

Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman

Jacksonville Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon

St. Louis Rams RB Todd Gurley

Green Bay Packers WR Ty Montgomery

Seattle Seahawks WR / Returner Tyler Lockett

Cleveland Browns WR Vince Mayle

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