My Relationship With Streetball
I love street basketball. The competition, the intense arguments and the handshakes at the end where all signs of aggression dissipate. I love the environment in which these scenes take place. From the frayed nets, the cracked asphalt, to the uneven rims, there's something compelling about basketball courts that haven’t seen repair since the day they were laid. But the true beauty of streetball happens on the sidelines between games. Here, in the waiting, is the vibrance: hip-hop music seeping into all crevasses of the neighborhood, groups of people sharing a smoke, and a 3-point specialist who also coaches full-on boxing. The smaller kids, too young to participate, watch in awe as their father makes jump shots. And then there’s that one hooper who can’t get a bucket to save his life but would happily and loudly critique the players’ weak points.
The allure of street basketball has always enticed me, even in my hometown of Tokyo. But it’s only since I’ve come to New York that I started photographing these incredible characters that I’ve gotten to know - all of us united by the love of the game. Generally, my approach to taking photos is to maintain a sense of gratitude and respect for the subjects. The way in which I do so, of course, depends on the person and the circumstances in which they are in. I am very aware that the camera has the potential to disrupt and invade. So I am very conscientious of that, as well.
Tompkins Square Park
These photographs were shot in one afternoon at Tompkins Square Park in East Village. As much as the court is a place of fun, it can also be intimidating, especially for newcomers. Every park has their own distinctive culture with unwritten rules and hierarchy within the fences. One of the challenges is to be able to gauge those dynamics. For these particular photos, I played ball. And I played hard. I knew that I first needed to gain some respect from the group before I could capture candid and natural images. I’m privileged to have been accepted into this circle. Ultimately, this is why I love photographing people. Cultivating that mutual understanding of intent, gratitude and acceptance is what it's all about for me.
These photos were taken on a Hasselblad 500C with Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Up until now I had shot exclusively digital. It’s only through the undergraduate BFA Photography Program at Parsons School of Design that I was introduced to analog photography. Since then, I’ve come to relish shooting on film. The process of carefully composing a frame and treating every photo with utmost care puts me in a trance where I’m one with the camera.
I’m also privileged to have access to a darkroom at Parsons. Learning how to develop film has opened me up to a whole new field within the world of photography. There’s no better feeling than seeing the results of the shots come to life and discovering aspects of the photo I hadn’t even realised I had taken.
"I Got Next"
“I Got Next” is an ongoing project of mine that I intend to continue in the States, Japan and hopefully, all over the world. Eventually I hope to make this into a book.
About The Author
Tai Hirayama is a 22-year old portrait, street and fashion photographer based in New York City. He was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. Tai’s style is often described as cinematic using high-contrast lighting and saturated colors – something that is rooted in his background as a cinematographer. Films like La Haine (1995) and City of God (2002) are constant inspirations for him. He has worked with Loewe, Toyota, Lanvin, Killian Paris and more. Tai is currently finishing up his BFA in Photography at Parsons School of Design.