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Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present by Gail Buckland

Disclosure: I read an uncorrected advance proof sent to me as a review copy.

who shot sportsI’m sorry not to love this book. I love the concept: a coffee-table style art book of sports photography, beginning with the first known “sports photograph” in 1843 (a portrait of an unknown tennis player), and including nearly 300 images. In the final publication, 120 of these photographs will be printed in color. My galley copy has just a few pages of full color, but I can tell the end result will be visually impressive.

The pictures are great. And the history is fairly well done: there is some discussion of technological advances (geared toward the layperson, not the professional photographer), and trends and values. The text itself, however, is very uneven. It started to bother me at about halfway through, as it began to repeat itself: in particular, Dr. Harold Edgerton’s feat in pioneering stroboscopic photography is noted over and over again, at different points in the book but also repeatedly on the same page. Who Shot Sports is organized thematically, with chapters like “Fans and Followers” and “Vantage Point”; within these chapters are photos that fit into that theme, from different eras. The surrounding text profiles the photographers rather than the athletes, and one of the express goals of the book is to highlight those often still unknown men and women (but mostly they are men, even now). These bios vary widely in length and quality, and often feel more like lists of facts than composed or relevant narratives.

But the line that stopped me and wouldn’t let me go was, “Banning African Americans, who were such talented athletes, was especially cruel and malicious.”

This is a racial stereotype that has not served African Americans well historically, and anytime we assume something to be true of an entire population, we look silly and find ourselves in some cases wrong. I read another 20-30 pages past this point, but couldn’t move on in my mind.

I will point out again that I read an uncorrected proof, meaning that this book is likely to see another round of editing before publication. They may catch this line in time. But they also sent this copy out for review, and should expect to be held accountable for its contents. Typos and formatting problems are common issues with galleys; images may be missing or shown in poor resolution, with the understanding that the finished copy will include the real thing. But tone-deaf racial profiling I can’t help but note.

This will clearly be a beautiful volume of photography. I think the text might be worth, at best, skimming. Unless of course you are as bothered by that one line as I was.


Rating: 9 light sources for photos, 3 for text. Draw your own conclusions (always).

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