Homes of Forgotten Legends

photography: andrew dolgin

Using film and a 4x5 view camera, photographer Andrew Dolgin points his lens at empty high school tracks that were once home to American Olympic gold medalists and world record holders in their formative years. He explains the inspiration behind re-finding the landscapes where the sport initially became potent for them.

 

VICTORY: Tell us about your project and why you started it.
Dolgin: I was an All-American sprinter and jumper in high school, and I was looking for a way to involve myself in track and field as an artist [beyond] photographing runners in motion. I started to research runners that inspired my 17- and 18-year-old psyche: Steve Prefontaine, Carl Lewis, and Michael Johnson.

An old feeling came back that track and field is mostly an afterthought in the United States, [yet] it is the country’s original sport. There are many 'forgotten' legends--Olympians and world record holders--throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. I decided to tell their stories by re-finding where track and field initially became potent for them in high school and some in college, not after Olympic glory.

Track and field can be a solitary endeavor, which is one of many reasons I was intrigued by it. The American public persona is dominated by a deep-seated extroversion. I wonder if this--coupled with the American right of passage of our physical education teachers forcing or yelling at us to run until nauseous--creates a bitter imagination for the majority of people.

The discovery of these places has a feel of unearthing gems buried deep at the bottom of a treasure chest. Seeing the ghost of their footprints around these tracks also affirmed how most of these people exist in a lost landscape.

All my mind can see in these landscapes is the intensity of deep study into one’s own limits: a slight angle change in your foot and ankle can shave a whole second off your time; all the small things no one else notices but that you can sense. No matter what the objective-ticking stopwatch says, only you really know where your progress is.

David Starr Jordan High School-Watts, Los Angeles, California, former track home of Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner and former world record holder Kevin Young

How long have you been working on it? Is there an end to it?
I started photographing in September of 2016. I'm about 95 percent done. For now this has had an American focus on the athletes and places. I'd love to do a Jamaican offshoot and a European journal of sorts, but that can come later with more funding.

 

 

East Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio, former track home of Jesse Owens

A project like this runs the risk of feeling repetitive. How do you avoid that?
It's funny, the first 10 to 15 places I visited in California and Oregon all had red tracks. I thought that this is going to be a good challenge to keep fresh and not approach like a copy stand. That is part of the never-ending great challenges of art--to embrace aspects of repetition and be open to a new approach or point of view every time you go out, even if it's a small change.

Photography usually exists in the realm of subtraction, unless you're working on a set or in the studio. You have to subtract information for it to be interesting and coherent. I like what the illustrator Christoph Niemann says about finding the perfect balance of abstraction with the smallest amount of detail possible to communicate or tell the story you're intending.

Each location has it's own geological factors or urban grit that is interesting aesthetically. Sometimes I would show up to a track and see no new angle. So I would walk around the track with the camera and tripod on my shoulder and just be quiet and look, which would usually start me down a good path. I had to remind myself not to overly have an agenda. 

You often position your photos before the curve of the track. How do you decide where to shoot? Is there a specific angle or place on a track that tells you that it's the right place?
Circles and ovals are a challenge to include the whole shape unless you want perfect symmetry. This project is being shot on film with a 4x5 view camera, which influences a slow and hopefully thoughtful approach. A view camera is an ultimate tool for composition, but [it] certainly isn't fast, which is a really good thing in this case. I prefer to shoot on film so I'm not distracted looking at a screen instead of using my brain. In our ever-growing, fast turnaround iPhone culture, this was especially important for me to make good old school photographs.

Tell us about a few of your photos and what about them stands out to you.
These locations were chosen based on research of who ran there in their formative years. They are all American Olympic gold medalists or world record setter/holders. These images are all telling of their geography and socio-economics.

Henley High School, Klamath Falls, Oregon, former track home of Dan O’Brien, Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon

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