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Grab Life By The Ball

Some photo ops, you just can’t dodge. So why even try?

Last week, I got a hot tip from Melissa Lyttle about a dodgeball game in Manhattan. And not just any dodgeball game, but one in which they were aiming to set a Guinness World Record.

I had been on the fence about going, in large part because we got dodgeball in Portland – and it’s awesome. (Waiting for the weather to improve to tackle that properly.) But after seeing a photo of the venue for the NYC game – the 69th Regiment Armory – and imagining hundreds of ballers, I decided it had true photo potential. I had to go.

Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want to miss out on history.

The event was really a publicity stunt for Samsung. Not that I cared. I wish more companies would follow Red Bull’s lead and set up weird sports tournaments. And I know just the person to shoot the PR photos…

I smiled a little bit because they expected 1500 ballers. Just less than half of that showed up. Felt like Evel Knievel Days, when jumps were promoted for record, death-defying distances, then casually, unceremoniously reduced at the last second to safer and shorter lengths.

But with 712 dodgeballers in attendance, it was still enough to set a world record. Congrats, Playahs.

I do these trips because I love what I do. Though there are times I wonder how much longer I can afford to fund this.

I pitched this event to one of my favorite editors at ESPN the Mag, hoping to get my travel costs covered. He responded: “Don’t throw a dodgeball at me…but there will be plenty of coverage already…”

Thing is: there wasn’t. Even in NYC. I saw maybe 4 professional photographers, including the event photographer with his on-camera strobe.

It’s not breaking news that publications aren’t covering travel costs anymore. I get it and understand it. But I do not like it.

I worry that at some point, it won’t be feasible for experienced, professional photographers to cover anything that requires self-funding, especially when work is slow and revenue is low. Meanwhile, amateur hobby photogs will continue to provide crappy images gratis to art buyers on tight budgets.

It’s one of the reasons why that when I’m in NYC, I don’t really search out magazine editors for meet and greets. There are a small handful of editors I really enjoy working with – and hope to do so again in the future. But the reality is is that I’m not going to be paid by them to travel to do what I love. I get editorial jobs based largely on where I live, not for my skill set and experience.

The irony here: ESPN the Mag liked one of my dodgeball photos so much, they paid extra for the exclusive use, so that SI could not run it. Consider my travel costs covered.

Special thanks to my mystery benefactor for the cheap, last-second plane ticket. You realize you are providing crack to an addict, right? Thanks for the fix.

Melissa is now a 2-time winner of The Toss-Sol-A-Bone-With-A-Weird-Sports-Photo-Op Contest.

Who’s got next?

  • m - May 13, 2010 - 3:20 pm

    i’m so glad you went, and followed your heart to continue to make pictures that mean something to you. you pursue your passion more than anyone else i know, and it constantly pays off. your philosophy on life/photography inspires me, my friend.

    the itunes gift card is simply icing on the cake after seeing your pics and knowing you made that trip just because you knew pictures were there to be made. speaking of, i love the one of the ref getting nailed. (7th one down!)


  • Sol - May 13, 2010 - 8:55 pm

    Wow. Your comments humble me. And obviously, little does.


  • Matt A - May 14, 2010 - 7:32 am

    These pics are great!! That ref getting nailed is named Ben…he refs Kickball and Ultimate Frisbee for NYC Social Sports Club. All of our refs had a great time at the event…


  • Gerry - May 14, 2010 - 9:34 am

    Agreed with M. Nice work as always — they look like “Sol photos”! And you know, amigo, that’s a compliment from me.

    Also agreed on the ref photo. Love it! If we ever print swap again, that may be high on my list next to that sweet photo you shot out at one of the snow venues in Vancouver. Not sure it was ever on your blog, either.

    Cheers brother. Keep on rocking it as always.

    – gerry –


  • […] –  Sol Neelman photographed an attempt at the world’s largest dodgeball game. […]


  • […] in May, I traveled cross country to shoot what was – at the time – the largest dodgeball game in the world. That was cool and all. But damn if dodgeball isn’t also literally in my […]


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