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Team Portraits

Team Portraits

Charles Edward Boyles (1888-1971) established the practice of having team photographs in front of the grandstand of their home ground. Many of the Boyles photos are available online through the State Library of Victoria. They can be downloaded and are out of copy-right. Ken Mansell, has written an excellent article about Boyles photographs, on the website, Boyles Football Photos. Charles Boyles’s son, Harley, states in the essay that Charles would go directly to football clubs and introduce himself; show them his photos and he then would be given permission to photograph the teams on match days (see: ‘From Tripod to Website‘). Mansell points out that some of the annotations for the photographs have incorrect details. Boyles was active throughout 1930s-1970s. His attention to sporting culture formed a precedent for later photographers such as Rennie Ellis and Wayne Ludbey. The team photographs in front of grandstands are one of Boyles’ signature styles.

The team photos were taken on match days. This contrasts with contemporary practice where clubs allocate a specific time. Schedules are tight; ‘time is money’. Players after all have specific contracts and expectations which must be adhered to. Boyles had the copyright to his own photographs. Nowadays the clubs have copyright and the photographs are sold or distributed to further propagate the club’s glorious image and reputation. Players present themselves for the photographs immaculately: freshly trimmed hair, delicately shaped moustaches and freshly inscribed tattoos. The team’s photograph becomes an opportunity for an event to be disseminated through social media; players too use their own cameras (smart phones) to photograph their mates and to photograph being photographed. With the lens so often pointed at them, it must be fun to photograph others. But, back in Boyles time, cameras were not ubiquitous and the act of having one’s photograph taken was indeed an event.

The photographs of the teams in front of grandstands show not only the team, but also the crowd. Some team officials and associated coaches, staff are also seen wandering in the background; in the middle ground between the players and the fence. Sometimes, some of the features of players in the front row are blurry; no doubt as a result of exposure times. In Image H2008.122/107 (above) not only is there a smiling portrait of a youngish Jack Dyer, but there many smartly dressed women in the front rows behind the white picket fence. It seems there is only one a single bench; behind which all others stand. A boy, perhaps aged in his early teens, serves as the team mascot: he is bolt-upright, tense and probably in his school shorts. His socks have only one band of indeterminate colour and his boots seem several sizes too large. On the other side of the photo, and also on the field, is a boy with a tray of food or perhaps cigarettes for sale. The clock on the grandstand suggests it is 2:40pm – a somewhat late start. Players are cheerful and relaxed and are yet to project their ‘game faces’ of tension, concentration and competition. Demeanour and postures vary: from slouching to projecting their chests. The players characters range from the apparent gentleman, jokester, to enforcer and tough-guy.

These days pre-game rituals are subject to a strict schedule. Some hour before the game, players have a walk on the ground – ‘getting the feel for the stadium’ – they then have their warm-up in their warm-up gear before heading back down the tunnel on the northern and north-western sides of the MCG. The crowd is lambasted with advertisements and with the haranguing of the Club’s official spruikers imploring fans to purchase yet more merchandise. The official photographs show the players and the team stripped of any context which serves to enhance their degree of celebrity. Boyles team portraits, on the other hand, show the embeddedness of club and team within its communal and architectural context. Mansell’s website is the outcome of a researcher having access to an archive who is then able to place the photographs in a more specific context and fill in the details and correct the mistakes. Sport is propelled by the forward-looking hype of expectation and anticipation for the next contest. Boyles photographs encourage a more balanced engagement with footy’s aesthetics, where we are able to disavow our immediate allegiances and obsessions with teams, players and results.

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Packed grandstands and cheerful players

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The old South Melbourne

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