With camera, he brings park's essence into focus

Phil Jackman

April 06, 1992|By Phil Jackman

There were maybe a couple thousand cameras on hand in, on, around, under and over the new ballpark at Camden Yards today: Expensive television jobs, hand-helds, instamatics, slo-mos, speed graphics, camcorders, Brownie hawkeyes. Chances are none were in better hands than those belonging to Michael Gustafson, however.

As professional photographers go, Mike is probably in the Monet category, rapidly closing in on the Van Goghs and Rembrandts. He shoots ballparks and signature sporting events among other things and one glance at his stuff leaves you with a I-gotta-have-it yearning.

For instance, a lithograph he produced of Wrigley Field in Chicago at twilight looking south toward the Loop has found its ** way into 100,000 dens, clubrooms, family rooms and other walls of choice.

What he produces today as a result of the overwhelming flood of publicity that has heralded the official opening of OPACY is apt to approach a similar reaction from the public.

It all started a couple of years ago when the Cubs were introduced to an invention known as the light bulb and they decided to try it out at venerable Wrigley. Mike was working on a calendar depicting scenes in and around Chicago; suddenly, he was knee deep in a company called the Collectors Series.

Several ballparks (openings and closings), All-Star Games, World Series and big-time events in other sports later, Mike has proof that, "when people go to something special like the Arlington Million horse race or whatever, they want to be part of that event and having a shot of the actual scene is one of the ways they do it."

Today, after taking some shots from here, there and everywhere inside the ballpark, Gustafson will head for BWI and his favorite tripod, otherwise known as a hovering helicopter. The mid-afternoon starting time (3:05) works into his plans almost perfectly.

"The best time to shoot," he says, "is a half-hour before sunset or a half-hour after. All you're getting after that is street lights. Fixed-wing aircraft usually have a 1,000-foot minimum, that's why a helicopter works best."

When he shot Yankee Stadium, Mike got the picture he wanted with the helicopter at an altitude of about 200 feet. "To get a shot looking in toward the city here, which will include the Inner Harbor, I think I'll be shooting from about 500 to 600 feet up coming in from behind home plate," he says.

With a packed house and 6 o'clock lighting from the west, it should be a picture worth a million words, not a mere thousand. "The shot will be used for our '1993 City Lights Baseball Calendar,' something we've produced for 12 years now," continued Mike. "The litho should be ready by the last week of April or the first week of May."

Besides being available via phone (1-800-244-2211), the lithographs are distributed to galleries and framing shops, where customers become so enamored with a shot, they order the framing done right on the spot.

Never one to let a good sunset go to waste, Gustafson checked into the downtown Holiday Inn last evening, noted the excellent view of the field from the roof and banged off several shots. "But aerial shots are where your best results come from," he says. "They add a certain depth and dimension and, besides, they're exciting."

Especially the ones turned out by Mike Gustafson, who doesn't restrict himself to ballparks. Arenas, too, they're his passion. "The athletes are great," he says, noting that the Chicago Bulls have a fairly photogenic player who carries the nickname Air. "But there's so much to be said about the places where they play. Many have historical and landmark status and are known throughout the world."

Gustafson was on hand the day Memorial Stadium was decommissioned last October and, if pressed, he might be about to find one still kicking around for any interested collector.

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