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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: May 11, 2015

Portland photographer Sean Alonzo Harris captures vintage baseball in photos

Written by: Bob Keyes

Sean Alonzo Harris was born in 1968, grew in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and played competitive baseball through high school.

Was he a fan of the Boston Red Sox?

“Is that a question or are you just confused,” Harris laughed, feigning insult. “There’s no wavering there.”

He can tell you Yaz’s batting average during his Triple Crown year in 1967 (.326), Jim Rice’s RBI total during his 1978 MVP campaign (139) and the number of Ks Pedro Martinez racked up during his Cy Young season in 1999 (313).

If baseball is his oldest love, photography is his second. He began messing around with a a camera when he was as young as a 7, intrigued with the idea of making a visual record. When it came time for college, he chose an art school, and has made photography his career. He has spent the past two decades in Portland.

This month, Harris, 46, combines both in “Huzzah! Play Ball (Like It’s 1861),” a black-and-white photography exhibition on view at Susan Maasch Fine Art in Portland. The exhibition is an extension of a collaboration with the writer Rob Sneddon for the May issue of Down East magazine. They spent time with vintage baseball teams in Maine last year. Harris photographed three games, and most of the photos in the Portland exhibition come from a game last August between the Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club and the Presumpscot Base Ball Club in New Gloucester.

Vintage baseball is similar to regular baseball, except it’s played with 19th-century rules, in old-style uniforms and without gloves.

Harris dreamed of playing professionally, and made it as far as American Legion ball before giving up serious competition in the sport for art school. He plays in 35-and-older leagues in Portland.

As someone with a little game, Harris wasn’t sure what to expect when he showed up to photograph the vintage ballists, as they are sometimes called. He didn’t know anything about vintage baseball, and didn’t expect much. “In my mind, I’m thinking re-enactment kind of guys,” he said.

He was mistaken, and impressed.

“They play some serious ball,” Harris said. “It makes you want to jump in. I always want to play. I want play right now.”

Harris adopted his athletic instincts for this assignment. A third baseman, he is accustomed to playing on the balls of his feet, always in a crouch, ready to move in either direction and willing the batted ball to come his way. “Please hit it to me, please hit it to me,” he taunted the batter.

Baseball is played from the waist down, and he shot it accordingly. He includes many images taken from his knees or belly, with a lot of low angles. He didn’t enter the field of play when the game was going on, but he did during warm-ups.

Harris shot the photos to evoke the olden days, just as vintage baseball is meant to do. His photographic treatment is grainy and soft, with the men emerging in bold, fluid forms.

This is his second baseball series. He traveled to New York a few years ago to shoot a Dominican Little League team, and has a goal of shooting a re-enactment of a Negro League game. He’d also like to add a series of photos from the pros, so he can show work from multiple levels of the game, from kids just starting out to athletes in their prime to older men hanging on.

He loves basketball too, and would have shot vintage hoops if that was the assignment.

“But it wouldn’t have been as much fun,” he said. “It’s not baseball.”

Sean Alonzo Harris – “Huzzah! Play Ball (Like It’s 1861)”

WHERE: Susan Maasch Fine Art, 4 City Center, Portland
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday
COST: Free

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