Joseph Sherman, Artist | Hoop Story #052

Joseph Sherman, Artist | Hoop Story #052

When did you first fall in love with the game of basketball? How? Why?

I grew up in a family that had the VHS tapes of the Chicago Bulls championship parades. On my first birthday, the Bulls went up 2-0 against the New York Knicks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, en route to the first championship of their first 3-peat.

Growing up in Illinois and being a kid from the 90s, basketball was inescapable, but I first fell in love with the game during a summer I spent with my father. As a surprise, he gifted me the original Nike Air Zoom Generations and that ignited my passion and reverence for the game. I was 13 or 14 at the time. The design of the shoe was very inspiring to me. I also loved the early 2000s NBA and to this day I believe that it is one of the most influential eras in sports.

Do you remember what your first basketball shot was with your first camera? Describe that feeling.

I do not remember the first basketball shot that I took, but I do remember the feeling and desire to use the camera as a tool to communicate what life meant to me with basketball being my canvas. When I first started shooting, it was never my intention to take "basketball" photos or document professional ballplayers. I only wanted to document the people and subjects that meant most to me and tell those stories. basketball was my language and voice to tell those stories.

How did it feel shooting your very first game? Tell us about the preparation that went into it.

The very first game I shot was by complete accident. I was a marketing manager for the Rutgers athletic department in 2012 and I was supposed to take photos of the corporate signage throughout the arena during a men's basketball game. As I was taking those images, I felt compelled to see what kind of photographs I could get of the pre-game rituals and warmups. After I looked through the photos later that night, I knew that there was something more for me to investigate creatively.

How do you stay focused in the craziest of moments when shooting?

Documenting basketball is the most peaceful place I can imagine. I don't feel fear or worry. It does not matter if I am in a gym in London or Compton. I know the language and nuances of basketball. It’s a place where I can think, meditate. There's a calmness that allows me to focus. For me, when I am documenting basketball, my focus is not to take "basketball photos," it is to document, celebrate and preserve the essence and humanity of the subjects that I see through my viewfinder.

There’s a difference between snapping a photo and architecting something that will be legendary. From working with Steph and the Warriors to Bron and the Lakers, how do you build chemistry or align yourself with the players to draw out the best in them when shooting?

Athletes like Steph and Lebron are my peers. The dedication to their craft and profession is no different than the work I put into my practice. I believe this recognition creates a space of respect and comfort which allows everyone to focus on what they do best. My job is to be a visual artist, and when I am in these moments, that is priority number one. The way I shoot and document Steph, will not be the same way I shoot and document LeBron because they are two different beings, two different energies. It's my job to be aware of that difference, then communicate it visually.

How do you balance the sport and personal aspects of photography?

I don't consider myself a sports photographer. The subjects that I shoot are humans first, athletes second in my eyes. so there is not a great need for me to seek balance in that capacity. I am a photographer and I take photos that I am compelled to take.

Describe a shot you missed and would love to get a do-over at.

I can not say there is a shot that I missed and would love to get back. I am grateful for all of the moments that I have been a part of. I have been blessed to be a part of legendary moments and that truly is enough for me. The capturing of these moments is typically the icing on the cake.

Of the tens of thousands of photos you’ve taken, what is your most prized photograph and why?

Honestly, a portrait of my grandmother that I took on a Contax t2 last spring. the more that I have evolved in my career, the more I have realized what is truly important in life... that is the people and communities that have produced me. I know that I will cherish photos of my family more than any photo I have taken of an athlete for the rest of my life.

With photography, there’s always more missed than there are hits. What’s the best advice you have for an aspiring photographer?

My mentor Chi Modu would always tell me, "people will forget your misses and remember your makes." My advice would be to shoot as much as you possibly can. Create as many makes as possible. Embrace experimenting. Find your niche. Do not try to be like anybody else. Your work will be your protection. Make your body of work your protection.

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