Houston Sports Photographer Robert Seale now in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston permanent collection

Nolan Ryan's fastball grip, Arlington, Texas, April 28, 2010.  © 2010 Robert Seale.

Each year, the Houston Center for Photography holds an extensive charity auction to benefit HCP and their various educational programs.  I was honored to be asked to donate a print to the auction, and even more honored to see it in the auction catalog alongside some of my heroes like Keith Carter, Herb Ritts, and Maggie Steber.  My print was purchased by Lisa Volpe, the Associate Curator, Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts and is now part of the museum's permanent collection.

The auction encompasses several individual events, including an exhibition, a tour of the exhibition with the fantastic former MFAH curator Anne Wilkes Tucker and Clint Willour, Curator Emeritus of the Galveston Arts Center and a major donor to the MFAH.  The auction culminates in a dinner/live auction at the Briar Club in Houston.

The print I donated was a simple black and white closeup of Nolan Ryan's fastball grip on a baseball.  It was taken during a 2010 session for Sports Illustrated….the actual assignment was to shoot Ryan with a group of young pitchers, but of course I wanted to maximize my time with him, so I also arranged an individual portrait of Nolan, and also the closeup of his hand, an obvious homage to the work of Charles Conlon.

Prior to Sports Illustrated, I worked at The Sporting News (known for many years as the “Bible of Baseball”) for over a decade, so I was aware of the work of pioneering baseball photographer Conlon (his photographs and negatives were part of the TSN archive when I worked there).

I had pitched (lol) a story on shooting closeups of the signature pitch grip of an array of Hall of Fame pitchers, but the story never took hold.  It was probably not a super original idea, but I thought it would have been interesting.  Portrait on one side of the layout – closeup of the pitch grip on the other side.   On this particular day, I was there for the pitching group photo, but story assignment or not, it seemed silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to document the closeup photo, since I had an audience with Ryan.  Years later, long after my tenure at TSN was over, I think another sports magazine finally published a story featuring the closeups of various pitchers grips, but not quite the way I envisioned it.

Anyway, it was exciting to watch the auction happen in real time, with curator Lisa Volpe and Clint Willour pairing up to win the auction and donate the print to the MFAH.  I am told it's the only piece they purchased at the auction this year.  I'm incredibly honored, and I hope to someday donate another photo worthy enough for the museum.

Here's a blog post from the original shoot in 2010.

 

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