Behind the Lights – Shawn Hubbard

The photographer who portrays America’s major sports in all their narrative and aesthetic dimensions

“It’s critical to build trust and make a connection when you’re working with an athlete at any level. Everyone thinks that because athletes perform on the biggest stages under tremendous pressure that they are comfortable being photographed, but they are often not at ease in front of the camera. I am constantly trying to find ways to evoke the feelings and emotions they experience on the field. They are real people just like everyone else and this is why action photography is a secondary focus of what I do. It’s certainly important, but I’m more intrigued with what it took for an athlete to get to this point in their life. I’m talking about the sacrifice, dedication, perseverance, joy and maybe even the heartbreak…”

Icon Collection Juventus
Icon Collection Juventus

From the Baltimore Ravens’ yards to the fashion eclecticism of Kyle Kuzma and the NBA universe. Shawn Hubbard’s photography portrays all the narrative and aesthetic dimensions of major American sports, managing to explore the identities of international superstars. But his photography also succeeds in stepping outside monumental domes and arenas, depicting the effect that the sports element can have on society, as well as on ordinary U.S.-made personalities.

“Professional athletes are not the only ones who have a story to tell. Here in Baltimore, I’ve been on a mission of sorts to tell positive stories of local youth athletes whose participation in sports may be one of the only positive influences in their lives. I think there is a strong link between sports and emotions and my work has often gravitated towards showing this connection. I was not a great athlete, but in my teenage years I played baseball, soccer and track and field, and in college I played rugby. I was dedicated to the sports I played, but I never had big aspirations to be a professional athlete. Especially as I got older, my main motivation for playing was the comradery between myself and my teammates. Later in life, when I had the opportunity to start photographing sports I immediately gravitated towards documenting these bonds and the other emotions that arise out of competition. When I’m creating an image, I’m trying to make something that forces the viewer to pause and reflect on what they are seeing. Making a ‘good’ picture is not enough. Years ago it might have been enough, but today anyone can make a beautiful photograph. I want my images to be impactful and to make ‘statements’. My goal is to tell an entire story through a single image and I want that image and that story to last, even if it is an almost impossible goal to achieve.”

As a child, inspired by the eternal omnipotence of ‘His Airness’ Michael Jordan, and as a young photographer, by the dances of contrasts and colors of Al Bello and the innovative advertising production of Tim Tadder, Shawn’s visual imagery turns out to be a narrative vortex balancing deep portraiture and commercial expression. A narrative vortex that will continue to develop in the future, drawing inspiration from another central muse in the life of this Baltimore-based photographer: music.

“Music has always been a big part of who I am and allows me to connect with people. When I’m working on commercial productions, music helps me evoke certain feelings out of whomever I’m photographing, whether that may be a moment of quiet reflection or one of dancing and yelling. I have been collaborating with the Baltimore Ravens since back in 2007, documenting the plays on the field and the quiet behind-the-scenes moments that people don’t normally have access to. If I had to think of the most iconic photo I have taken, while I don’t think I have a clear-cut favorite, an image that comes to mind is one I made of Ray Lewis before his last game played in Baltimore. For years I photographed him performing his pre-game ‘Squirrel Dance’ from out on the field, but for this game I wanted to capture a different perspective and a different point in time. I wanted to show people the brief moment of calm right before he walked out of that tunnel and performed his flamboyant ritual one last time as a player. I keep searching for images like that. Moving forward I want to continue to combine documentary and commercial work along with directing and hope to do more work enhancing the connection between sports and fashion which continues to provide a thriving platform for athletes to express themselves.”




Text by

Gianmarco Pacione



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