‘One of the most startlingly original cricket books ever published’, wrote Matthew Engel, so picking up this book came with high promise and certainly there are some brilliantly written lead-ins to the photography of Patrick Eager in 1975; writing to heighten the senses, framing images seemingly to the point of intimacy with those performing at the top of the game then.
There is a wonderful panoramic photograph of the World Cup Final that year: Lord’s, its setting, the occasion, a reminder of cricket played in a less commercial era and a .001 moment in which Viv Richards, then a prince rather than the king is about to run out Ian Chappell; arm pulled back with ball, Clive Lloyd, the bowler, in position at the wicket, Rohan Kanhai pointing to the other end and both batsmen looking at him with good reason for thinking I might not make this.
During a decade when TV coverage was free, but second chances to see were not many and the original films often taped over, Patrick Eager’s photographs are a large part of the visual record of the game then. Among the other brilliant images in the book are the possibly familiar photo of D.K. Lillee and his follow-through; Phil Edmonds bowling his hat-trick ball to Doug Walters in the same Headingley test, five close fielders crouching but Tony Greig still towering above all and umpire Tom Spencer informing Jeff Thompson, arms stretched out with ‘gunbarrel zeal’ that he had, in fact, just delivered a no-ball.
Quite what is observation, what reaction pops up in several places and is something Christian Ryan rather wonders about again at the end of the book. As he puts it at one point
….faces in a photograph are sometimes exactly what they seem, sometimes not at all what they seem, and the trick and the hitch is not knowing which is which, or when and this is a part or a lot of the intrigue of photographs.
What is insight, a reveal, what a more or less synthetic pose for publicity not always easy to classify and when does it matter anyway is a question not far behind. There are action shots in the book which can be reasonably classed as one, but the boundary between action and portraits blurs. FWIW in 1978 this one blogger took the snap below of a relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott during a county game at Southampton, the picture of a man apart rather but also of one in his element. Quite who he is smiling at is a bit of mystery at first glance, not the lady to his right who is looking up at him, but at someone or somewhere in the middle distance.
The attention of the boy in the front row has been distracted, quite possibly by the photo being taken, boundary to wicket distance, prompted as it happened by noticing a serious and not entirely happy looking Geoffrey B fielding with his hands in his pockets, in front of a pavilion well populated with visiting Yorkshire members. As a simple observation this one snap f for failure, although the self-conscious response, looking away from the camera, has since made for a-things-were-better-then picture for Fred Boycott’s twitter followers; an early season warmer for those watching Championship cricket in April, even if it was taken in August.
Patrick Eager understandably enough mentions that he hoped that moving camera position in anticipation of a wicket falling didn’t actually trigger the event; or in the generality of things the opposite, given an intent to record the what had the photographer been elsewhere. More of an issue then than now maybe; with the limits of 1970s technology, he also mentions that it was a case of shoot tight or lose focus, possibly miss the .001 moment that day; but as seen now a tight focus can come at the expense of something of the wider social setting, and with it, arguably less or perhaps just a different feeling.
In the 1970s crowds were allowed on the outfield during intervals at Southampton, as elsewhere, and it was usual to see some taking a closer look at the players coming back out. The difference between his photo of two West Indians, Bruce Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes coming out in 1957 and that of the two Chappell brothers in 1975 near where the Boycott photo was taken is striking: the first as a teenager, with a teenager’s ground level view, three policemen helping keep order, unremarked upon; the second as a professional, a bit further in-field, spectators blurred images, their presence something of a problem.
While it would be wrong to say that Patrick Eager didn’t do crowd scenes, you do have to go looking for them a little bit, even at patrickeager.com where some 13,000 of his images have been uploaded. One of the more evocative images in the book is that taken at Trent Bridge showing a time when teenage boys attended Test match cricket in twos and threes, interested enough in the game for it to hold the attention on summer days sat on the grass. It is the photograph of an era when the sport was widely played in schools.
Feeling is ….is no-one’s idea of a coffee table book and the photographs are to be sure better seen in Kindle than the print edition. Christian Ryan’s narrative does a fine job weaving its way round the images with sharp observations of small details and well-informed comment; it is an impressive book that for this one reader pretty much lived up to the high expectation that others put on it.