At first, we witness uniform netball players in defensive and attacking positions in front of a looming black background. The scene is one of a battlefield, as the team hold strong stances and perform aggressive positions as a unit in her new project Grace in a Different Place. However, the delicate lighting and captured movements hold a certain familiarity that is striking, revealing a transition from netball player to ballerina as what SJ believes to be an aggressive sport, turns into one with elegance and grace. The visually underrepresented sport is exposed in exciting new photography by photographer Sammi-Joe Bridges, as she reveals a netball team naturally twisting and bending into poses similar to ballet dancers, demonstrating two sports that are seemingly miles apart becoming one.
KN: What got you interested in sport related photography and what drew you to netball specifically?
SJ: Well truthfully speaking, I was never interested in sport photography. What drew me to netball was having a personal connection because I played the sport myself which enabled me to have unlimited access to players.
KN: How was shooting in an actual netball game different than in the studio?
SJ: Believe it or not, shooting the games was easier than the studio. Netball players aren’t models and they definitely aren’t used to the camera – it can be daunting. Being aware of the camera in this way can ruin the shot. Compare that to a game where they’re not focused on me but on the ball, it’s easier to catch them naturally. Although, working in the studio has been beneficial as I have the time to ask the players to repeat certain positions until I’m happy with the work, whereas in a match I have a split second to get that shot.
KN: Why is it important to strip the environment back and photograph in the studio as opposed to at a netball game?
SJ: It makes everything less busy! The gym had bright blue walls, a wall of windows looking into an actual gym, not forgetting the opposing team and players on the bench. That’s a lot of people in one photograph. Removing all of this and taking the girls out of the game and into the studio to pose allows me to show viewers the connection between ballet and netball without them just thinking it’s a photograph of a netball game.
“I’m not saying that the netball players are ballerinas, but in the heat of the game, they begin to use grace as a form of power and aggression.”
KN: Did your netball team agree that they felt similar to ballerinas?
SJ: No, not at all. In fact, when I explained what I was doing they laughed! During the shoot, they’d comment on how ungraceful they are. They’re so focused on the game it’s not until you photograph them that they can see the positions they get themselves into. I found myself directing them into positions a lot in the beginning, but throughout the shoot the players began to naturally twist and pose like ballerinas without any help from me. Watching this happen in the studio confirmed to me that there is a strong connection between ballerina and netball.
KN: What do you think of the photography coverage of netball that you’ve seen?
SJ: What coverage? There is none! This has proven to be extremely difficult when trying to get some inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of images of netball games but there isn’t an artist that I have found that has focused on the game of netball as a project. Instead, I looked at Leonardo Di Vinci for inspiration and the way he examined the body and muscles. Some of my group shots are posed in ways that were similar to his drawings. Ballerinas are explored much more, for example work by Camila Falquez and The Ballerina Project by Dane Shitagi. The more I progressed in my project, the more I found myself wanting to give netballers a platform too.
KN: Do you think netball is misunderstood?
SJ: Yes definitely! Netball is often mocked for being a girly sport. Even though the players stand still with the ball in their hands, the aggression it takes to get that ball or defend it is often overlooked.
KN: What would you like the viewer to take away from your project?
SJ: A sense of understanding, especially the grace of a netball player. The sport may not have the same following as others but it deserves the same credit. These netball girls are so dedicated to the sport that they naturally get themselves into positions that ballerinas train to perfect. I’m not saying that the netball players are ballerinas, but in the heat of the game, they begin to use grace as a form of power and aggression.