Jack Dicken Photography

Final Major Project

Nexus

Over the last 20 years there have been a few attempts by the British government and the B.B.L. (British Basketball League) to encourage young people to play basketball. It was one of these attempts to create interest in the sport in schools that spawned my unfortunate love affair with the game. When I was 8 years old a player, from a team then known as the “Thames Valley Tigers”, came to my school and did an hours tutorial on the sport. I along with two of my closest friends, were hooked. My dad went out that weekend and bought my first net, which hung on the back of the garage door. Being a cheap one from Argos, it only lasted through one winter before the net was moldy and the metal ring and plastic backboard were both warped.

What has surprised me the most is that, 14 years later, I still have to put up with dilapidated basketball courts. While living with my parents my local court, which was about 2 miles away, is shown in the images named “ Nexus Park”. It had 2 courts, the first 3 hoops had no net and warped plastic Adidas backboards and the 4th was a full metal setup with a football goal included. The net still intact, as it was made up of 2cm loops; it would take some particularly gifted vandal to remove such a sturdy net. When I talk to people who have played basketball outdoors in the UK there are two things that remain constant regardless of where they have played. The first is Adidas nets are everywhere and the second is that all outdoor nets are “Unforgiving”. This implies that in comparison to an indoor net the basketball is much more likely to hit the backboard or ring and bounce out than it is to take a friendly bounce and go in. This is obviously due to the fact that they are designed to be hardwearing and weatherproof. This does then raise the question, why have cotton nets? It was the only reasonably good net I have seen but it was built was primarily a football goal, and when anyone else was at the courts they were using the football goal and not the basketball net.

My only other choice beyond the “Nexus Park” was a small recreation area just up the road in Mytchett, it has a single hoop over a football goal with about 4 by 10 feet of concrete underneath it, beyond that was mud and grass. Mud and grass is not that great for bouncing balls on, something that is quite integral to basketball. Even for shooting practice it was not ideal as the foul line in basketball is 12ft away form the baseline and that happened to be a particularly muddy part of the ground, pretty much all year round.

When I went to college I discovered a basketball court just around the corner, which was made up of the same Adidas backboards, again with damaged cotton nets and a bright green and red floor, which had seen better days as it was cracked pretty much all over. When this court was built it would have been a really high standard but age and neglect has caused it to fall into disrepair. But at least this was a court devoted to basketball. This court was named “Osborne Road”. Returning to this court I noticed that someone had started to take care of it, replacing the nets whenever damaged, and weeding the court to keep the surface in good condition. I assume however that it is not the council carrying out these repairs, but a local who cares about the state of their court.

I should point out that while there are no well-maintained and accessible courts near my parent’s house. The junior school where I was introduced to basketball in the first place, has recently built a really nice outside basketball court. Which I can’t get access too, and depresses me every time I drive past it.

I assumed when I moved to Southampton that it would have been good for basketball, as cities tend to have more funding for urban recreation than villages so my hopes were high. I got a glimpse of that hope, while browsing Google earth in order to look for small rectangular areas of concrete, which could be basketball courts. I found one that was reasonably near to my halls of residence next to the Solent The “Mayflower Park” court was one of the better courts I had played on, wooden backboards, and an intact net made it a delight to play on. I was alarmed to see that 2 years later when I returned to photograph the court that both nets had been torn down, but at least the backboards and rings where still straight and in good condition. I shot the court on digital on the Friday, returned on the Tuesday with a 5 x 4 camera, only to find that one of the posts supporting the backboard and ring had been bent by about a foot to the left and the frame no longer stood straight. I don’t know any vandals in Southampton personally, but that is quite an impressive feat, to bend a 6inch thick stainless steel post. As my mother once said to me, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

The most recent court I had discovered was so conveniently close I was ecstatic when I found it using Google earth. Within 200m of my front door, though hidden behind a set of allotments, this should have been my saving grace. However, the court was about 2 foot higher on one side than it was on the other, it had football goals built into the fencing that surrounded it and of course it had no nets on the rings. So an uneven court with no net and full of teenagers playing football, not the basketball perfection I had envisaged.

When I set about trying to photograph these courts I looked at a couple of artists for inspiration. Simon Norfolk was a big influence in my work, as I researched him whilst writing my dissertation. His use of vibrant Colour photography to depict the aftermath of conflict in the series “Afghanistan” was a method that interested me. The use of picturesque imagery in a place with such a troubled past showing through the landscape and in the residents daily lives, appealed to me. Using the picturesque to convey an altogether ugly topic was something that i had covered in my dissertation so was eager to use a similar set of techniques. Another of my influences was Cindy Bernard, and her series of bandstands.. The uniform nature of this series is what compelled me to shoot in the way I did. Reminiscent of the Becher’s typography all of the images were shot from the back row of whatever seating was at each location, so although Cindy’s distance from the band shell changed, the varied size and shape of the bandstands kept the series in form.

After having several issues with the 5 x 4 method and being unsure if I could get the images I wanted, as even if I was stood underneath the opposite net with a 90mm lens I was struggling to get the wide angle that I wanted. To combat this I decided to use camera movements and the Phase One digital back for the large Horseman 5 x 4 Camera, which allowed me to capture three images from different sections of the film plane and then stitch them together in Photoshop to create a panoramic image.

These images speak about my past and my opinions on the state of basketball as a recreational activity in the UK. The dilapidated state of these courts is not the fault of an individual or organization; it comes from a lack of respect for public facility from the people who vandalize them, a lack of pride from the governing body’s that run them and a lack of interest from everyone else.