SHOUT tour of Game Time

Colby Echo (Camilla di Galoma)

Iooss’s dynamic and exuberant shots exemplify what it means to be an athlete at peak performance. His subjects leap off the 2-dimensional surface into the viewer’s space so that we see their drive, their pride, their heartbreak and we feel these emotions deeply.

Last Friday evening I had the privilege of viewing the Game Time: The Sports Photography of Walter Iooss exhibit with a guided tour by Justin McCann, the Lunder Curator of Whistler Studies and Miriam Valle-Mancilla, the Assistant for Access and Outreach. McCann and Valle-Mancilla focused our attention on two photographs, one of legendary basketball player and civil rights advocate Bill Russell, and the other of Muhammad Ali, the celebrated boxer and activist.

We started the tour with the photograph of Russell, caught leaping into the air to block any view of his opponent from the net. McCann and Valle-Mancilla invited us to admire his graceful ballerina-like pose, with toes pointed and arms stretched out to his side as an almost Christ-like figure at the center of the image. Our guides then asked us to participate in an interactive exercise, prompting us to mentally and physically dive into a series of words imagining each being written on a typewriter and envisioning the colors and images that appeared before us before finally striking a pose embodying that word.

The first word was liberty. After we took a few minutes to grapple with the essence of the word and its varied meanings to us as individuals, we all struck our poses. Some were seen with their chests proudly puffed out, others put a fist in the air simulating Lady Liberty, and one student lay flat on the floor with their arms and legs spread wide. We conversed about how liberty symbolized coming to America for some, based on their cultural identities, and how others thought of freedom and utter tranquility.

The next word was justice. When we all struck our poses, the contrast was stark. Some were cowering over, one put their hand over their eyes, and some raised their fists in defiance. When we discussed our poses, most said they could not even imagine the word justice, their thoughts quickly jumped to injustice and the systemic inequality that makes justice seem impossible. The juxtaposition of these two poses unveiled the individuality of the word liberty and the collectivity of the word justice; one can feel individually free, but in order to feel justice, structural change for disadvantaged communities is necessary.

As we moved to the photograph of Muhammad Ali, we learned the history of Ali’s renaming. Ali’s birth name, Cassius Clay, was given to his family by a slave master, and his resistance to it signified his dismissal of white possession over his identity. His praise for the Muslim community that had been instrumental in providing support for youth during the Civil Rights Movement. His opponent in the photograph had taunted him the entire match, calling him Cassius Clay and attempting to dismantle his reclaimed identity. Iooss’ photograph features Ali in a dominating position and the opponent with a rounded back and his face falling into his own fists, capturing Ali’s vehemence and the brutal state of our nation.

Similarly, the dominant physicality of Russell’s block shot, standing tall above all the other players, marks him as a God-like figure, with the immense power to transform not just the result of that basketball game, but the nation, in alliance with Ali and Martin Luther King Jr. through the Civil Rights Movement.

This tour gave an interesting look at the intersection of art and activism and the inherent position of power athletes hold. In this moment, it is important to consider the role of athletes in inciting changes in communities and the nation as a whole.