Hank Willis Thomas and the Season’s Final Home Stand
Hank Willis Thomas at work. Photo by Ivan Weiss.
Hank Willis Thomas, Bull City Summer’s final guest artist, was brought in to help document the last home stand of the regular season. Hank is an accomplished conceptual photographer and artist who works primarily with themes of identity, history and pop culture. After noting the breadth of our photographers’ impressive, season-long work, Hank was determined to find a new, creative way to document the ballpark during the time he was here in Durham. He had two ideas, both pulling from the power of crowdsourcing, social media, and smartphone technology. With the incredible help of the Bulls staff (whom we can’t thank often or sincerely enough for all of their generosity and patience with us this season), we successfully executed both of Hank’s ideas in totally last-minute fashion.
Monday night, at the bottom of the fifth inning, an announcement went out over the P.A. system and the video board, instructing everyone in the stadium to take out their camera and snap a photo of Wool E. Bull, who was standing in the middle of the field bearing a camera of his own. On the count of three, everyone took a picture of Wool E. from their different perspectives, and he simultaneously took pictures of the fans in the stands. Fans were then told to tweet or email their pictures to Bull City Summer. We received about eighty photos in total, and Hank plans to stitch these together into a piece of crowdsourced art.
Then, on Tuesday, Hank spearheaded an even bigger endeavor. His goal: to take an iPhone picture of every single person at the ballpark, from fans to Bulls staffers to concessions crew. He wanted to create a mosaic collage of sorts, showing thousands of faces present at one moment in time at one particular place, the last game of the regular season at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. A team of ten of us, all wearing impossibly fluorescent yellow T-shirts, spread out through the stands to take photos of everyone present. Our optimistic idea of a systematic approach to this quickly broke down, with fans constantly up and about getting food and changing seats, and a new influx of people entering the ballpark all throughout the first hour and a half of the game. But the group of us, all smiles and energy and “excuse me, sir, have you already been photographed tonight?” managed to take well over two thousand photos. We’re still waiting for the final numerical tally from Hank and his collaborator Colby Katz, but we were thrilled by the results and can’t wait to see what Hank does with the images.
Of course, Tuesday was a bit of a bittersweet night at DBAP, a Bulls win tempered by the knowledge that for many, summer is ending and September is suddenly mere days away. That seemingly infinite stretch of seventy-two home games spread out over the course of five months made it seem like there were always more chances to come to the ballpark. On Tuesday, it dawned on me that, minus the upcoming playoff games, which Bull City Summer will continue to document, this is it — our summer of baseball is over. It was a muggy night on Tuesday, hot and palpably humid, and at one point I caught Hank sitting down on the concrete walkway where our team of volunteers was assembling. He was slumped against the wall, looking weary.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m just thinking about all the missed opportunities,” he said.
And that’s the thing about a project like this one. You can never capture it all. Hank knows this, as do all of us involved with Bull City Summer. Yet at this stage of the game, as we’re laying out the Bull City Summer book and looking towards our exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, you can’t help but think, “What did we miss?”
But our work here is not done. We’ll continue to cover the Bulls in the post-season through the playoffs. And beyond that, our website and Facebook page and Twitter account will all remain active. We have more stories to tell, more photos to post. Keep following us. Tell your friends about us. Order our book and check out our exhibit in March. Your support has pushed this project forward and we can’t thank you enough for that.
We’ll see you at the playoffs.