"Not everyone is interested in sports, but everyone is interested in human emotion," says Ali Kershner, a Palo Alto High School student photographer. "These photographs transcend boundaries. I want people to say, 'Wow, that's what sports can do to somebody emotionally.' That's how much it means to them."
She's referring to a new exhibition of student photography that includes these athletic images. The show runs through early June at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, highlighting photos by Kershner and other photographers from Paly's sports magazine, the Viking. The subjects are Paly athletes.
The exhibition was organized by independent curator Simcha Moyal, parent of one of the Viking photographers, in appreciation of the effort the young photographers were putting forth in light of their academic demands.
The unusual aspect of these photographs is that they capture what most people don't see: the facial expression of an athlete in his or her moment, says Allie Shorin, one of the Paly photographers who has since graduated. Normally, when watching a sports game on a TV screen or from the stands, a viewer would concentrate on the action, and not see the close-up.
The photographer remedies this problem. A subtle presence hiding behind the lens of the camera, the photographer has the capacity to become more immediate, to zoom, and capture a subject's unaware expression. In a sense, the photographer is an adventurer, the first person to see the moment and to disseminate it to the public.
In their public lives, teenagers are engaged in a type of social performance, dressing or speaking a certain way, conforming to social codes. But when playing sports, an athlete needs to concentrate on the action. "You can't give up focus to being self-conscious," photographer and athlete Brandon Dukovic says.
Katie Maser, a swimmer and subject of one of Shorin's photos, says: "When I hit the water, I'm not really thinking, just acting. I feel the pain on my face. Water is pain. The butterfly is a hard stroke and what's going through my mind is, 'Just finish.'"
In sport, thoughts are simple: Finish, get the ball, defend. The feeling of the body can become so intense that it drowns out the possibility of more complicated awareness. What the viewer sees in these photos are raw emotions and teenagers engaging in a most natural state, where what matters is physical ability and endurance.
"There are the stereotypes of teenagers as pretentious, immature, but when you see these photos, you get a better insight into their personalities — that they are capable of serious feeling and that they are all determined, driven to be the best in their sport," Dukovic says.
Photography can also yield unexpected results. In one of the pictures currently on display, Shorin, aiming to capture a swimmer's magnificent arc at the onset of diving, instead catches him in the middle of it. He's forming a tight "V" in the air, and his expression is a mixture of surprise, fear and something indescribable.
Although the players can be unpredictable on the field, the photographers often plan their methods out carefully. Lighting and the photographer's position to the ground are taken into consideration, as well as a focus on game-changing moments. Some photographers often hone in on the ball and capture movements and expressions as they unfold around it.
Viking photographers says that having an athletic background gives them an edge in their art, because they know how the game is played out, and how players may react in certain situations.
"Breathing is very important in swimming. When someone is doing the butterfly, it's more interesting to get a shot from the front so you can see the intensity of the face," Shorin says.
Not all contributors from the Viking are athletes. Some are more artistically inclined, such as Talia Moyal, who says: "I like the reflections on the basketball court and work with lighting and contrast to enhance them. I try to find the beauty within."
Although interpreting the lines of the face and the set of the eyes as certain emotion is a subjective experience, there are core essences of feeling that everyone seems to understand.
Simcha Moyal, Talia's mother, interprets a photo that has stayed with her, the one of Katie Maser, butterflier in the water.
"She seems to be working hard to swim forward, to reach the goal that is in front of her, to deal with the world in front of her," Moyal says. "The strong power of her arms will help her achieve that goal."
What: An exhibit of sports photography by Palo Alto High School students
Where: Richard and Rhoda Goldman Sports and Wellness Complex, Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3291 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
When: Through early June. Exhibition hours are Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10:30 p.m., Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. and weekends from 7 to 8 p.m.
Info: Go to http://paloaltojcc.org or call Jennifer Landucci at 650-223-8664.