feeling is the thing that happens in 1000th of a second @duffythewriter

I thought this was a cricket book. I am sure that is what Duffy told me as she flicked through The Iconic…..

“Feeling is the Thing that Happens in 1000th of a Second” is really a cricket book about photography. If you asked me to explain the difference before I read his book, I am not sure I could have done it.

I was initially a bit underwhelmed when I flicked through it.

Why are the pages not glossy? Surely a cricket book about photos should be printed on glossy paper?

Why are there no chapters? The author (Aussie cricket writer, Christian Ryan) wanders through some of the biggest moments and characters from one of the biggest summers in English cricket. Some photos are colour. Most are black and white. They vary in size.  Rarely does the printing on each page extend all the way to the bottom. It looks a bit haphazard.

And why does the book finish abruptly with a late cut in pink light from Australian batsman, Rick McCosker?

Photographer Patrick Eager loves cricket and has devoted his life to capturing it on film. It is his world which the author develops (pun intended) and he does it in an interesting diary-style format.

The subject of the diary is the English summer of 1975 – the first cricket World Cup. The final pitted the swagger of Chappell’s Australians against the brilliance of the emerging West Indians under Clive Lloyd. Some of the greats of the game were on show – Dennis Lillee, the Chappell brothers, Doug Walters, Rod Marsh, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. In many ways, it was a summer which changed the game.

Eager had a particular fascination with fast bowling menace, Jeff Thomson. The author writes of Eager’s photography: “He depicted the before, during, after and aftermath – batsmen numbed, stung, winded, prostrate, upended and writhing like insecticided cockroaches – of Thomson’s bowling action.”

Thomson’s slinging action was unique. In a demonstration of photographic “symmetry”, the author compares Eager’s most famous photos of Thommo’s action to a photo of San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichel by Sports Illustrated photographer, Neil Leifer. The baseball pitcher as photographed is at: “maximum wind up point. About to sling a ball down. His front leg’s kicking towards vertical, the pitching hand’s at five o’clock.”

Over 40 of Eager’s photos and other famous shots are featured in the book. If you are a cricket nut, you will have seen some of them. The one which stands out for me is Rod Marsh diving full length in front of Ian Chappell at slip to catch Tony Greig off Gary Gilmour at Headingley. Eager had to react with the same speed as Marsh to get the photo.

The great challenge of the sports photographer is to be there at just the right time. The players cannot be moved into position. One has to be there and be ready. The author highlights another of Leifer’s photos – Muhammed Ali standing over a sprawling Sonny Liston in a World Heavyweight Championship title fight in 1965. The photo was later acclaimed the greatest sports photograph of the twentieth century. The live emotion of Ali is plain to see as he roars: “Get up and fight, sucker!”

TV cannot capture moments like that. The author writes: “TV is ok at emotion in the aftermath, once a six is hit [or a boxer hits the canvas], but not during. TV is too slow and too fast. TV is too facile, panning for the next thing, the galloping-away ball, incurious about what has just been.”

That is not to say that the photographer cannot create movement. Another of Eager’s photos captures Dennis Lillee in his classic follow-through, using a very long exposure. The crowd behind him is blurred. The blur magnifies “some essence the naked eye cannot clock”. “Shut eyes, listen. There’s murmuring, a clamouring, rising, expanding.”

But it isn’t just the sporting action which Eager puts on film. The wicket celebrations and the dressing room confessions can be equally as entertaining. Back then, the dressing rooms were open and many of the players relaxed with a beer, a smoke, a game of cards. The photos tell it all. They tell it like it is. And if you are a batsman in poor form and see the photographers hovering down the ground so they can click that edge or lbw, your confidence might not get any better soon.

Perhaps in no other game does crowd watching play such a part. Photographers incorporate the crowd into their shots. They tell a story within a story. About one of Eager’s very first photos for the Cricketer magazine, the author writes of the background to an on-drive by West Indian keeper Deryck Murray at Fenner’s, Cambridge:

“Beside a brick wall, under a tree taller than three sightscreens, walks a woman. Her dress rides above the knee. Walking at her are two men. Between the woman and the men are three more men. One stares at the woman, one is observing the action in the middle, the other is craning and twisting away from the cricket and the woman to look at something happening out of shot, some other narrative, threatening any second to walk into this photograph. It begins. Uncertainty, poetry, they are together in an Eager photograph for the first time.”

In some ways, the book is a biography of Eager, but it is more than that. The cricket world was changing and Eager was there to seize it. To bring it into the light. To show us what it might become.  

And we all love the 70s, right?

But if the author can finish with a random photo of a Rick McCosker late cut, I reckon I can finish with this random shot of a beer cup snake from Getty Images


Don’t worry about the cricket. In photography speak, I call it the reverse blur………..

Grab yourself a copy at Booktopia