The sporting life – Daniel D’Ottavio’s RUGBY creates monuments of flesh and blood


Athletes make superb photography subjects. In motion, their bodies perform seemingly superhuman tasks that are a thrill to see. At rest, either before or after their feats, athletes’ faces are studies in concentration — or pain. Photos of teams remind us of our pack-ness; our ability to bond with others — or fight. RUGBY, Daniel D’Ottavio‘s book of black and white photos of the New York Athletic Club Rugby Team during their 2008 season is a beautiful tome.  Caveat: I’ve seen it in pdf form only  so can’t speak to the binding, paper, or feel of the book. All I can say is the photos sizzle with their extremes of ground and sky punctuated by bodies in motion. Oh, and the NYAC Rugby Team won the Rugby Super League Championship in 2008 — so this book is a perfect documentary/art storm.

Daniel D’Ottavio, RUGBY, left half of a scrum.  This picture is half of a two-page spread in the book.

Captured in these photos, rugby looks positively ancient. The moves of the game, for example, the scrum, seem akin to the “flying wedges” the Romans used to break through enemy lines.

RUGBY, right side of the scrum in the two-page spread in the book.

D’Ottavio, 33, is a California-born, New York-based photographer who started out as a model himself. But he loves being on the other side of the camera, something he did seriously for the first time on the advice of a friend who told him he must select one thing he loved and do it well. He chose photography and moved to Milan for a year, where he learned fashion photography. Then he moved to New York, where he’s been working for the last four years as a photographer on magazine shoots and for clients like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie.

A friend encouraged him to start photographing sports. He chose rugby and spent time getting to know the New York Athletic Club rugby team, which he photographed in black and white from a low angle so the players — silhouetted against a stark white background of the sky — have a monumentality to them that’s unusual is sports photography.

RUGBY, P. 17, standing on your teammates shoulders to try to get the ball. Like nothing else.

I talked with the photographer by phone on July 15.

This is your first book. How’s it being received?
The reception exceeded my expectations…we changed printers midway through and scrapped the first version because it wasn’t what we wanted. Now I couldn’t be happier. The launch party was during a snow storm and we had a huge turnout.

RUGBY, P. 48

Has the team seen the book?
Some have. None of the players make a lot of money. A $125 book is too much for them…Christian Mayos is team captain and part of Play Rugby USA. I’m working with them. We go into inner city schools. We’re trying to find a way to create awareness (of rugby) and we’re trying to come up with an event (to raise money)

How does this differ from your commercial work? It’s black and white, for starters.
I’ve always loved black and white….This is a personal body of work. I shoot models for Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie…but these are real people. It makes it real.

Do you have any connections to the sport? Did you go in knowing anything?
I have a mutual friend on a team. After a couple games I’m sitting, screaming on the sides and forgetting to take pictures.

RUGBY, P. 10

What is it about the New York rugby team that appeals to you?
Good team known for a lot of heart. They’re not the biggest team but it’s the spirit they brought to it.  It was camaraderie I experienced. I hope it comes through the photos.

You mean they’re not the tallest, most muscular…?
Yes. And the team they beat is Samoans! huge, huge, huge.

How do you get inside a team when you don’t know them or the sport?
Not knowing anyone, and with sincere intentions of being part of their world, they help me out and let me get involved…I got to every home game. And they included me. It’s about building trust with people — all of us…suddenly you’re part of the team. From the first game to the third and fourth, I got more intimate shots.

RUGBY, P. 55

What camera do you use?
Pentax 6×7 medium format camera. It’s unorthodox for sports. It’s hard to focus and you only get 10 shots per roll. It has imperfect perfections.

How much does a roll cost?
$25 for a roll of 10 pix

Do you have a digital camera?
Yes, I shoot digital with models. If it’s important to me I shoot film. Knowing I have a finite number of frames per roll I become more conscious of what I see. What you shoot is what you get.

Talk a little about shooting while lying on the ground.
I use a fixed focal length lens. I’m lying on the ground trying to shoot at a low level. It’s consistent with my work. I shoot up a lot. This is what I love, landscape, horizontally and shooting up. I like to work with natural light. I like the picture clean. I get sky behind not other stuff.

The works are heroic and romantic. And they feel like they could be from 1940 and not 2010.
I want the photos to be timeless.

How did the book come about?
Kevin Mesinas, the publisher, wanted to do a book. A mutual friend is a lover of photography. He saw the contact sheets and he recognized the potential.

What’s in the future?
I want to keep going this way. I need to stay with models but I want to continue with sports. Ralph Lauren’s Rugby division wants to have an event with the book. If it’s a crossover then I can continue (to do the sports photography). I’ve been shooting polo on the sidelines. I will go to Boston in the fall for the Head of the Charles regatta.

Are you hoping to get a gallery representation?
I need a few more sports under my belt.

RUGBY by Daniel D’Ottavio
New York,
Silas Finch
limited edition of 500 signed and hand-numbered copies
hardcover, 9.25” x 11.5” 64 pages with 34 tritone images printed in the United States using co-cure inks printed on 80# cover weight Mohawk Superfine uncoated paper drop-spine cover, wrapped in offset-printed cloth with screen-printed spine detail exposed smyth-sewn binding allows pages to lay flat rear panel of book block slides into a pocket inside the cover
ISBN: 978-1-936063-02-4 retail price: $125


2008 championship season, book reviews, daniel d'ottavio, new york athletic club rugby team, rugby, silas finch



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