A deserted sports court isn’t perhaps the most obvious subject for a photographic collection, but Liam Bailey sees beyond the lines.
Blood, sweat, tears. Ask most adults to share the words that best describe childhood memories of their school sports hall and the chances are these three will be fairly close to the top of the list.
Others might include determination, achievement, even laughter. Fewer, perhaps, would add beauty, imagination or art. Yet a sports hall viewed through the eyes of Norfolk-based photographer Liam Bailey becomes a whole different ball game. ‘Colour-coded markings are the starting point for this personal project,’ he says of his collection of images taken in colleges and leisure centres around the UK. ‘Sports halls all around the world display the same markings on their courts – with red for netball, black for basketball, white for badminton, green for volleyball, yellow for tennis and blue for soccer.’
For Liam, however, every hall is distinct. ‘Each one has its own unique quality. Their markings are imperfect and worn. They produce graphic windows.’
The images have a modernist feel. ‘There’s a nod to the work of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and Albert Jean Gorin,’ explains Liam, who studied fine art photography at the University of the Arts in his home city of London.
His desire to become a photographer was piqued in the 1970s by The Sunday Times Magazine. He was drawn to its acclaimed photojournalism, including features from the frontline by Don McCullin and other project work from Richard Avedon, Eugene Richards and Eve Arnold. Alongside this is an ‘obsession’ with all things sports.
'My last project was on sports balls that I found, discarded, in various places across the country. Liam finds the process of photography – and the recruiting of images on a shoot – to be extremely mindful.
You have isolated the senses and are working to an internal rhythm and breath. I think photography has incredible mental health and creative benefits and now, with the advent of mobile photography, the barriers to participation are minimal.
This means even more people can enjoy the process.’ His own approach is to consider an idea and then let it mature over a period of time. Most projects take at least a year, and are opportunistic, based on travelling while working on commercial projects.
The sports halls took just over six months, and involved seven sites. ‘My next project is to document walking football.’ Now there’s a game we might be able to play.