No one can deny that sports in America have evolved into a big, multi-billion dollar spectacle – but, in the latter 20th century, sports also become a great, if imperfect, democratizing force where anyone with talent could succeed regardless of race color or creed. Although the multi-story "Equality" banners on the sides of the Benson Tower by the Superdome suggest a bit of satisfying civic schadenfreude (after the NBA moved its All Star game here in response to North Carolina's silly bathroom law), equality is also what makes America's democratic version of patriotism different from mere mean spirited nationalism. That ideal of equality, despite our deeply conflicted history, is as much a part of American exceptionalism as its imposing landscape. Both appear in Rob Hammer's Basketball Hoops Project that came to New Orleans along with the All Star game it celebrates.
Hammer is a Los Angeles sports photographer known for dramatic action shots, but these images are quietly meditative views of basketball hoops across America. No people are visible, but each resonates a human presence in landscapes rendered with a deft painterly flair for color and composition. In Barn, Utah, a rusty hoop protrudes from the weathered wooden husk of an old barn in a scene like a ghostly German expressionist take on Americana. Even more mysterious is Milk, New York, a bottomless milk crate on a weathered pole next to a shuttered gothic church with gnarly vines and dark shadows worthy of Hitchcock. Night, California, top, is a moonrise over a playground hoop that somehow unites the ordinary with the cosmic -- but Mars, Arizona, above left, is an otherworldly view of a metal folding chair and a basketball hoop rising from a red, sandy expanse like something NASA's Mars Rover might have transmitted from the red planet. But the most emblematic of all is America, New Mexico, above left, with its painted American flag backboard radiating a buoyant folk art evocation of a bright, shining and eternal American dream. ~Bookhardt / The Basketball Hoops Project: Photographs by Rob Hammer, Through March 1, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218;
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