“Youth Chess Stories” by Michael Hanke – WordPressphoto.org

When browsing  Wordpressphoto.org for a piece to write about I naturally went to the sports section. As someone who wishes to one day be a sports writer I figured I’d might as well get familiar with work that’s respected and praised by the photography community. This project, “Youth Chess Stories” by Czech photographer Michael Hanke, immediately stood out to me as unique because of its placement among the other pieces in the same category. We tend to associate sports photography with motion, dynamism, or any noun/adjective capable of communicating drama. When we think of sports photography we think of the action shot, or an image that caters to the idea of a recognizable hero in the midst of an unforgettable moment. Images that come to mind are Michael Jordan’s 1988 Slam Dunk or Muhammad Ali standing atop a beaten Sonny Liston. In this project Michael Hanke sought to capture this same element of theater and spectacle in documenting a sport that offers minimal movement, less “excitement” and no familiar heroes to speak of: chess. The project “Young Chess Tournaments” focuses on the emotion of the competitors and their families during, after and before their game of chess. Hanke chooses to make his photos black and white, giving his shots a sense of seriousness and heaviness.

This picture stood out to me the most because anger and frustration aren’t thing usually associated with chess. More often than not we’d think of chess players as calm, in control and focused given the intellectual dedication the game requires so to see this boy almost brought to tears is compelling. This photo allows the audience to identify with the boy and his frustration because we all know what it feels like to lose. It also shows that passion isn’t only reserved for sports celebrated by mainstream media such as football, soccer and basketball.

The photo does a terrific job of capturing the tension of the sport. Most people would probably say that chess is boring and doesn’t offer any drama but the posture, faces and hand positions of the parents captured in this photo tell a story of worry and uneasiness. Everyone is on edge and unable to take their eyes of their children, almost as if they’re fans of the game.

I enjoyed this last photo because it shows the spectacle of it all. The children are focused on the chess game just like we’d be focused on the World Cup or the Super Bowl. The way the photographer has focused on the face of the one child who’s frustrated is also integral to the shot. This seems to be the deciding moment of the game and he captured it perfectly. I think that Michael Hanke does an incredible job of legitimizing the emotion and reality of a sport that isn’t recognized or respected as having traits of other mainstream sports. Hanke has brought attention to the humanity of chess by incorporating black and white tones, maximizing his usage of focus and capturing the perfect moments.

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