Thursday, April 28, 2011

#25 - End of an Era

The strobes are busy popping from ceilings in arenas all over the country these days, but that's not too surprising, the NBA Playoffs are here! And with every new post-season, I can't help but think back to a place where studio-quality color basketball photography (with slide film, no less!) was possible without any additional or fancy lighting.

The Milwaukee MECCA Arena had the best light in the NBA. Period. This tiny 10,000 seat venue opened in 1950 and was one of the first in the nation to accommodate broadcast television. It was home to the Milwaukee Bucks from 1968 to 1988, until they moved to the stylish 18,000 seat Bradley Center across the street. Both of these photos were taken May 6, 1988, during the Bucks' 105-99 game 4 first round playoff victory over the Atlanta Hawks -- it was the last time the Bucks ever played at the Arena.

Now back to the Arena's lighting . . . since the facility was designed for broadcast television, it had to be lit like a TV studio that's why you'll notice bright strips of lights running the length of the court in the top photo. The tungsten-balanced bulbs were aimed at a 45 degree angle to the hardwood and the audience/seating area remained dark, so the photos had a black background and great separation because usually the players were rim-lit. A color shot for publication back then meant loading transparency (or slide) film and the exposure with Kodak 160 ASA tungsten film (pushed 2 stops to 640 ASA) was 1/250th at f 2.8. The results were amazing!

May 6, 1988, was a significant date in the Badger State for another reason too. Supposedly, Wisconsin was the only place not represented in the book, A Day in the Life of America, so the State decided to produce their own version of the project. Hence, A Portrait of Everyday Life in Wisconsin, was born and documented on May 6th as well. This photo of Bucks' Larry Krystkowiak (42) battling the Hawks' Tree Rollins for a rebound was published in the book.

Shooting NBA basketball in color on slide film pushed 2 stops with available light and excellent results -- just another night at the office for me almost a quarter-century ago. So here's to the Milwaukee MECCA Arena, and the old schoolers out there - whether you took a jumpshot or a picture - but most of all, here's to the End of an Era.