The last column of the old Shea Stadium was collapsed by the wrecking crew yesterday, ending a 45-year run. Too young for a stadium to die, if you ask me, but those in power know otherwise. Its demise, however, brought back a few memories.
When I was growing up, my dad was a writer who authored a daily newspaper column about photography. He taught me a lot, including what cameras were good and why. One of the things he impressed on me was that the Mamiya camera company was one of the oldest and most respected names in medium format photography.
More after the break…
So it was not surprising that in 1962, when I was fourteen years old, I told him how great it would be if I had a Mamiya camera. I kept dropping hints about how much I wanted one but to no avail. Finally, for my birthday the following year, dad came through with a beautiful Mamiyaflex “C” with three lenses, an 80mm normal, a 55mm wide-angle and a 135mm telephoto.
Shortly thereafter, Dad introduced me to a fellow named Con Gebby who held a wealth of knowledge about company magazines. They were called “house organs” and provided a great marketplace for photographers and writers. This was in 1963 and, of course, the world of photojournalism has changed a lot since then. But luckily, in those days it was a great time to be working.
Taking a hint from Mr. Gebby, I wrote dozens of letters to major companies and finally got an assignment, allowing me access to Shea Stadium while it was being built. The construction manager gave me a hard hat, asked me to sign an insurance waiver (luckily they didn’t ask how old I was) and told me a few simple rules like “don’t walk too close to the edge of work platforms.”
For the next two months, I shot tirelessly with my Mamiya outfit – photographing every conceivable product and service being installed at Shea. From U.S. Steel girders to Goodyear Tires to Caterpillar tractors, I learned that editors were hungry for photographs and stories, and were willing to pay a decent amount of money to get them.
Each night I would develop the film and make prints from the previous day’s negatives. Then I wrote captions and modified a “boilerplate” story to go with the pictures. One by one, the editors sent back letters saying they would use the stories and photographs, and here was a check as payment! Wow! Now we were talking. By the end of the summer, I had amassed the tidy sum of $7,000 (worth $50,000 today!). That was the defining moment that shaped my career as a professional photographer.
Fast-forward three decades or so. Shea Stadium, it was announced, would be dismantled to make room for a new ballpark. What? What kind of crazy idea was that?
After the initial shock wore off, I went along with my regular life until one day WCBS’ websites showed photographs of the old Stadium, nearly gone! Agh! Another shock. I frantically started making phone calls to get permission to photograph the dismantling process. One by one, the word was a polite “no.” It was a crushing blow. Didn’t they know about the young kid who photographed welders, ironworkers, carpenters, plumbers and dozens of other tradesman who put their blood, sweat and tears into building the stadium?
Not taking no for an answer, last Sunday I grabbed my latest Mamiya medium format digital outfit – the new DL28 with four lenses – and went down to Shea to see what the story was. Glass included a 28mm super wide-angle, an 80mm normal, a 150mm f/2.8 (great for low light portraits and such) and the 210mm telephoto. I also brought along my 46-year old Mamiyaflex “C” for old times’ sake.
I quickly discovered why it was impossible to get permission to explore inside the deconstruction compound. There were hundreds of Mets fans walking around the old stadium looking for ways to photograph the nostalgic ballpark. It was the last weekend that any of the old Shea structure would be standing. I even photographed an overzealous fan who had jumped the fence to get closer; a security guard was quietly leading him away.
The 28mm Sekor D gave me a great opportunity to photograph the new ballpark in the foreground with the old one being destroyed in the background. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t for the life me understand why we need a new stadium, but c’est la vie, eh? You can’t stop progress.
The DL28 represents a great breakthrough in medium format digital photography. For the first time in history, the entry price for a professional level medium format digital camera system (camera, lens and digital back plus promotional offer for a second lens for free) is less than $15K. Compare that against other cameras in the $30K to $40K range and you’ll agree that it’s quite a bargain. And it gives you an image that is qualitatively better than any DSLR, hands down.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be known that I am the public relations person for MAC Group, importer and distributor of Mamiya as well as many other well-known brands. Check out MACgroupUS.com and take a tour.
Oh, one last thought. Never give away or sell your old equipment. You can never buy those memories.