Back in 1939 17-year-old Mark Kauffman was seated at a high school press conference in Los Angeles not six feet away from Eleanor Roosevelt. Already a passionate photographer, he snapped a portrait of the First Lady so expressive that it was purchased by the editors of a fledgling magazine called LIFE. In fact, the picture wound up on LIFE'S cover. In the years that followed, LIFE staffer Kauffman became one of the world's most famed photographers, and when the idea for SI began to germinate in 1953, Mark was one of the first to join us. All this is merely to explain that if Kauffman's collection of baseball pictures beginning on page 26 has a purposefully musty, long-time-in-the-attic look, it is partly because the man who took them is something of an oldtimer himself.
Actually, they were inspired by the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was full of tintype stills. Since Mark's trip to the movies coincided with the beginning of spring training, ideas began to click in Kauffman's mind. It wasn't long before he and his assistant, Ronnie D'Asaro, were driving all over Florida and Arizona in a station wagon loaded with antiques, potted plants and an ancient Graflex camera in search of ballplayers.
"Every morning," says Kauffman, "I would go to an antique shop and rent some likely props—an umbrella stand here, a mounted bird there. Then we'd go to the training camp and set up a studio."
Sometimes the seamless paper they used for background was hung behind a clubhouse, sometimes out in the bleachers. The idea always was to place it in the shade, to reproduce as closely as possible the indirect lighting of old-time photography studios, whose illumination consisted of sunlight working its way in through the windows. Kauffman had hoped to get the same effect indoors with lights but he couldn't. He tried once, with Henry Aaron posing, but the result lacked the period flavor he was looking for.
Once the decision was made to stick to daylight, the main problems lay in keeping the wind from tearing through the background paper. There were other small problems such as fitting Frank Howard into the picture on the same scale as the other players and making Ernie Banks appear appropriately grave. "He kept smiling," says Kauffman, "and that didn't tit the tintype thing at all. Also, he kept mumbling something about not really wanting to do this—that baseball was a young man's game" The Howard problem was overcome, but Kauffman never did get Ernie to look serious.
For those of us on the magazine it is especially pleasant to have Mark, whose photographs appeared on our first two covers and whose cameras have recorded the news at five World Series and four Olympics, take this particular kind of sporting picture for SI. Like finding a dusty daguerreotype of grandpa when he was a quarterback.