Conrad & Conlon: old-school baseball portraits

©Fred R. Conrad

One of my favorite recent photo essays is Fred R. Conrad’s Capturing Camaraderie in a Minor League Baseball Team, part of the New York Times’ excellent Lens blog. Conrad is a New York Times photographer who, drawing on the example of early 20th century sports photographer Charles Conlon, shadowed the Rockland Boulders, a minor league team based in Pomona, N.Y. Instead of using a digital camera, Conrad used an old Graflex 4×5 film camera to capture the intimacy and grace of the players in a fantastic collection of portraits and players in their environment. The 19 photos in the group are lovely, and worth your time, especially if you’re interested in portrait photography or baseball, or both. (You can find more of Conrad’s work on

Conrad’s inspiration, Charles Conlon, was a pioneering sports photographer who was active from the early 1900s through the mid-1940s. His best known work is probably the shot of Ty Cobb stealing third, captured in 1910 with a glass plate negative (also with a Graflex view camera):

Ty Cobb sliding by Charles M Conlon, 1910
Ty Cobb sliding into third, by Charles M. Conlon (1910)
While he had some great action shots, my favorite Conlon photos are the portraits, of which this one, of a young Ted Williams, is a gem:

Ted Williams, by Charles M. Conlon (1939)

You can find out a little bit more about Conlon—and how some of his negatives have come to light—from this 2010 National Public Radio piece, Charles Conlon Captured Baseball’s Greats. If you’re interested in the topic of photo restoration, the Baseball Hall of Fame has a piece about the project to restore and digitize a large selection of Conlon’s photos.

Conlon’s work is also available in book form. My favorite is Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (Amazon link).

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