When Richard James Daniels moved to the Philippines five years ago, he was intrigued by the popularity of basketball in the country, and by the rustic courts where it’s played in small villages. Shooting in the province of Cebu, in the southern Philippines, Daniels began photographing the hoops as a kind of typology, inspired by images of industrial structures made by Bernd and Hilla Becher. But over the course of the ongoing project, his focus has expanded to include the landscape around the courts, and the life that takes place on them. Daniels tells PDN about his series “Baskitan” in an edited email interview.
PDN: What brought you to the Southern Philippines, and how did the project begin?
Richard Daniels: I’m originally from the UK but have been working in Asia for nearly 25 years. I came to the Philippines five years ago to shoot web based video documentaries. I am currently based in Cebu, in the southern Philippines as my partner is from a small town just outside Cebu City and I now have a beautiful 1 year old daughter.
As an Englishman and a football (soccer) fan I was always slightly confused as to why basketball was so popular here as opposed to football, which is massive throughout the rest of the world. My photo essay started off as a way to find out more about Filipino’s love of basketball through literally shooting hoops. I was also more interested in the aesthetic and the culture behind the grassroots courts and hoops of the poorer villages rather than the generic gymnasium courts in the more suburban areas.
After a bit of research I discovered that basketball was introduced to the Philippines in 1900—only 10 years after it was invented in America. A decade later and the Philippines had won its first gold medal at the Far Eastern Games.
I have also discovered some fascinating back stories to the series, including Hoop Politics. For instance the local and regional politicians sponsor and advertise on backboards and also use dilapidated hoops as bargaining chips when elections come around (Vote for me and I will buy you a new basketball hoop). That’s why there are quite a few hoopless shots in my series and also backboards with politicians’ names painted on.
PDN: What were the biggest challenges of the project?
RD: There were a number of challenges shooting the project. The heat and humidity in the Philippines was one. Harsh tropical sun was an issue in terms of image quality and contrast. I would often revisit courts at a better time of day to get a better shot. That’s also the time when the courts have the most activity with people playing and lots of goats grazing!
The courts I shoot are hidden away inside the poorer undeveloped areas so there’s a lot of walking involved sometimes. I can cover up to 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] in a day so you need to constantly hydrate. You are also walking through people’s homes and properties. It’s not uncommon for groups of women to bathe in the open. You need a friendly diplomatic approach and to be culturally aware at all times.
Most of the areas I shoot in have livestock. I’ve had a few run ins with Caribou (buffalos) but geese or Gansa in the local dialect are the main worry. For some reason they don’t like me. I always ask if there are geese around before walking through an area.
PDN: How do you approach making images that look different from each other, when you’re working with similar elements in each place?
RD: Actually, my original intention was to make the images look the same. As a fan of the Dusseldorf School of Photography I always thought a basketball court and hoop series would fit well as a typology—much like the Bechers’ “Water Tower” work. So initially I was interested in capturing these slight variations on a theme. (In Asia it’s called ‘same same but different.’) However as I began the project I found it more interesting to broaden the scope to document more of the ‘landscape’ and include the environment and the local culture but still using the basketball court or hoop as the unifying theme. For me each hoop is different, each backboard is different and the construction and material of each hoop varies. The backdrop also changes. I can now identify banana, cassava, coconut and palm trees in my images after working on the project for this long. The project has definitely given me a better understanding of the culture and the people.
That being said the project is still ongoing and I am now taking a more photojournalistic approach—documenting the more ‘traditional’ basketball shots and will finish up with a series of portraits to complete on the project.
PDN: What kind of equipment do you use?
RD: Another reason for the initial typology idea was the limitations of my equipment. I have been using a Panasonic G7 and a GX7 with a pana 20mm 1.7 for the wide shots and a 45mm 1.8 Olympus lens for the backboards. This kit was bought to shoot video rather than stills. Maybe $1000 in total! I was always thinking of printing this project and if I couldn’t do big fine art prints due to the sensor limitations then I would put together a series of smaller images and large grid prints featuring multiple images.