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The Action is the Essence
December 07, 1959
The rare and beautiful pictures on the cover and the following pages are dramatic results of an experiment by Photographer John Zimmerman to portray basketball's chief quality—continuous action from tip-off to whistle. Troubled for some time by the fact that conventional photography fails to do this because it "freezes" action, Zimmerman decided to adapt to basketball a technique he and others have used elsewhere—oddly enough, in the field of fashion. There, cameramen often focus on one element of a scene and deliberately fade out the background. Here Zimmerman focuses on the fixed basket and, at the same time, emphasizes the action by softening the images of the players. His tools were a 35-mm. single-lens reflex camera, Kodachrome daylight film and strobe lights. He attached a sheet of clear glass to the camera, a few inches from the lens, so that he could swing them as a unit to follow the swirling movement on the court. Then, leaving a two-to-three-inch-diameter clear circle in the glass, he smeared ordinary Vaseline lightly over the remaining surface. (Incidentally, smearing the Vaseline in streaks or with a circular motion produces different effects, all equally interesting.) Zimmerman lay flat on his stomach at courtside in New York's Madison Square Garden and shot all his pictures from this low angle to accentuate the leaping figures. Frequently players leaped over him as they pursued a loose ball. The results, clearly, fulfill his hopes: "I didn't want people to look at the pictures and say, 'Who's playing?' I wanted them to say, 'Wow! this is a wonderful game!' "
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December 07, 1959

The Action Is The Essence

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The rare and beautiful pictures on the cover and the following pages are dramatic results of an experiment by Photographer John Zimmerman to portray basketball's chief quality—continuous action from tip-off to whistle. Troubled for some time by the fact that conventional photography fails to do this because it "freezes" action, Zimmerman decided to adapt to basketball a technique he and others have used elsewhere—oddly enough, in the field of fashion. There, cameramen often focus on one element of a scene and deliberately fade out the background. Here Zimmerman focuses on the fixed basket and, at the same time, emphasizes the action by softening the images of the players. His tools were a 35-mm. single-lens reflex camera, Kodachrome daylight film and strobe lights. He attached a sheet of clear glass to the camera, a few inches from the lens, so that he could swing them as a unit to follow the swirling movement on the court. Then, leaving a two-to-three-inch-diameter clear circle in the glass, he smeared ordinary Vaseline lightly over the remaining surface. (Incidentally, smearing the Vaseline in streaks or with a circular motion produces different effects, all equally interesting.) Zimmerman lay flat on his stomach at courtside in New York's Madison Square Garden and shot all his pictures from this low angle to accentuate the leaping figures. Frequently players leaped over him as they pursued a loose ball. The results, clearly, fulfill his hopes: "I didn't want people to look at the pictures and say, 'Who's playing?' I wanted them to say, 'Wow! this is a wonderful game!' "

Sharp focus of both camera and players, the basket hangs rigid in mid-air, contrasting with the streaky blur of action beneath it

Legs pivot, heads swivel and all eyes focus on the ball as it sails with tantalizing slowness toward its target

Up from the cluster of straining bodies, one lithe figure explodes highest in battle for the rebound

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