Photographs stop time. That’s exactly why some photographers are obsessed with portraying time’s passage. In “Crowded Fields,” a buoyant exhibition at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, Brookline photographer Pelle Cass joins the problem of time with the athleticism and emotion of sports photography. His photos look like what would happen if stop-motion photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge had the wherewithal to shoot an entire game.
Cass places his digital camera on a tripod at college sporting events and shoots thousands of images. Then he uses Photoshop to assemble scores of them into one photograph. The playing field becomes a static stage against which crazy numbers of athletes scrum and tumble.
The images bustle like Hieronymus Bosch paintings. Wider shots convey the signature choreography and patterns of each sport. “Dartmouth Hockey,” full of lunging diagonals, looks breathlessly dynamic, but “Women’s Water Polo at Harvard,” awash with swim-capped heads and arcing arms, is balletic.
Sometimes Cass zooms in, amplifying the conflict of sport by revealing the faces of dozens of running, jumping, dodging players, as in “Dartmouth Men’s Basketball (Close).” During quarantine, for a corollary series called “Uncrowded Fields,” Cass took a different perspective from the same game, erasing most of the players and leaving the balls. “Dartmouth Basketball Side View (Balls)” shows hundreds of basketballs soaring toward baskets and skimming the floor at midcourt, captivating spectators.
The absence of players is funny and unnerving, especially these days, when games have far fewer live spectators. But Cass’s photographs brimming with players are just as delightfully unsettling — fervid and chaotic, yet contained within the graceful restraints of the game and the field.
My favorites are more intimate photographs of individual sports. In these, Cass composes veritable structures from leaping, somersaulting, and falling bodies — divers twisting like pickup sticks; pole vaulters in a heap as they cross over the bar. Within these compositions, pure emotion on some of the faces pulls us deeper in, like the radiantly joyful woman jackknifing over spraying water at the center of “Divers, Mission Viejo (bodysuit).”
The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The rush and passion of an athletic event, distilled in one image.
PELLE CASS: CROWDED FIELDS
At Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through March 21. 617-820-5173, www.abigailogilvy.com