When Hobart accepted a story drawn from a chapter of my novel in-progress for its annual baseball issue, I was thrilled to share some of what most of my writing time was going into, and, in the accompanying splash image, to illustrate the novel’s ekphrastic element.
In the story, a commercial campaign is early in post-production, its eventual look existing only in an artist’s vision:
François traced a pitcher’s mound and baseline in air. “I was thinking in this scene we make the depth of field very shallow, so the distance the pitcher is thinking about is a thing you feel, the heat of it, the heat between the runner and the pitcher. In the defocus, you see the runner and he is a mirage.”
“You’re putting crowds in the stands?” The director clicked his phone into its belt clip.
“This spot is about the summer everyone remembers never getting.”
For the story, the director and his producer lose their names from the novel. Their personalities meld into their professions and magnify François’s sense of his imperative to work long after their departure and “the bag-rustling end of the workday”:
Tap, tap on his tablet. Two clips, overlaid: pitcher, and runner and umpire. Frame by frame the pitcher went from smudged shadow into windup. Behind him, for the moment half-transparent, the base runner flared from focus into sweat jeweled on grease paint, and the first base umpire’s watch face flashed. The camera operator had pulled focus ten frames early. And the light was wrong, bluish clear, early morning warm-up light filmed weeks after the director had filmed the pitcher at midday and trusted backgrounds to an assistant, who—the director had said—would be fired for forgetting them.
To illustrate the depth of field François envisions I started with a photo of a Brooklyn Cyclones game (1). I liked the old-timey scale of the ballpark, the colors of the center field ads next to the right field shadows. I tinted a base layer to lift the scene out of everyday light (2) and overlaid a layer blown out with a lens blur (3). I added 9 additional layers (4) to darken shadows, fine-tune the lens blur to distance, halo the middle distance, and clarify the foreground for the final composite (5).
The chapter this story is drawn from has gone through revisions large and small since the story’s publication. Few extended passages remain intact. François’s sense of himself at work persists:
He was piloting the job, the company into after-hours calm, the building at sea in Manhattan, Manhattan anchored to a continent of ballpark afternoons.
Photo and composite: Sarah Malone