The book: “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream”
The author: Photographs by Tabitha Soren; text by Dave Eggers
The vital statistics: Aperture publications, 136 pages, $45, released on April 1
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website, or the writers’ website
The pitch: First things first — If you’ve got time Saturday at 4:30 p.m., jog over to Culver City’s Arcana: Books on the Arts (8675 Wash-
ington Blvd.) to join Soren for an artist talk and Q&A about her work.
Aside from not being disappointed from that invested time, you’ll get a chance to browse perhaps the coolest art-book stores in SoCal that even has its own baseball section.
But first, some background.
This 15-year photo project began when Soren started shooting the Class of 2002 Oakland A’s minor leaguers as they came to spring training straight out of high school and college. She had something of a vested interest: Her husband is Michael Lewis, author of the acclaimed book on the A’s called “Moneyball.”
He wrote about the way the team was assembled. She, admitting to knowing little to nothing about baseball, could document how their careers did or didn’t pan out. And do it in a very artsy way that really has no precedent.
In a previous life, Soren was the MTV political reporter in the mid-’90s and worked at NBC News, but she saw an opportunity to reinvent. Photography, and the art of making pictures, captivated her interest enough to where she went old-school with the platform and development of photos.
As it turned out, these young A’s players included pitcher Joe Blanton and players Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen, who logged double-digit years in the MLB and earned quite a few million dollars for it. But the book also contains photos of other baseball-related occurances that captured Soren’s eye along the way, and they get inclusion as well (such as a shot of that 2013 brawl former Dodgers coach Mark McGwire got into with Arizona manager Kirk Gibson and coach Matt Williams at Dodger Stadium).
The book also includes a five-part mini-novel by Eggers about a Kansa City Royals-drafted infielder named Giovonni “Gee” Fillipacci, who went 1-for-9 with a triple in the only two big-league games he got to plain, ultimately for the Dodgers. Just don’t look him up. He doesn’t exist. It’s a composite of what happens to players who chase their dreams and get into the eye of this “fantasy life” before it spits them back out.
In recent interviews with Andy and Brian Kamenetzky on their ESPNLA podcast, with Joe Posnanski from MLB.com, with Jeremy Schaap for his ESPN Radio podcast and also with Sarah Spain at ESPNw.com, Soren’s step-by-step process is laid out as to what she was trying to achieve and by what methods — and turns out many striking photographs that definitely are not what you’d expect from mainstream shooters.
This gives us the opportunity to take a few broader strokes to see what Soren, 49 and mother of three kids in the Bay Area who still isn’t sure what she knows or doesn’t know about baseball, thinks about other things at it relates to the medium as an art form:
Q: I saw this photo on your website and was fascinated by how you’ve managed to give what is otherwise a classic photo of Sandy Koufax an entirely new perspective, based on this technique you used. Can you explain how you do this, as you did to several other photos in the book?
A: You know that’s Sandy Koufax? I have no idea how you know that.
Q: It’s the number 32, for one, and the classic motion …
A: The motion? Really?
Q: It’s him in mid-pitch taking his arm back to that extreme stretch and bending his back.
A: Wow … That’s cool.
So, this is called a tintype. I was doing research about baseball and looking at a book on Eadweard Muybridge who did a lot of motion studies on horses and runners and there was this whole series on baseball players. They are naked and swinging and hitting and he’s studying what their bodies are doing. But then on the next page there were a series of players did when they made an error. I’m not sure what the comparisons were. So the first recorded baseball contat was in 1846… But it also mentioned that Adolphe-Alexandre Martin was making tintype pictures in France in 1853. When I saw that, a light bulb went off in my head: This would be a great way to have action shots that look like mine. In art photography, the whole point is not to copy what someone else who came before you but think of some new way to tell a story. I knew the narrative of my story was different but I didn’t want to have action shots that looked like they were from ESPN Magazine or Sports Illustrated. We’ve seen plenty of them and they’re very good, but I don’t know we need more of them in the world. Continue reading “30 baseball books for April ’17, Day 28: How Tabitha Soren (*yes, that Tabitha Soren) has baseball’s ‘Moneyball’ money shots” »