"I was shooting and got kind of inside my head and came to realize that my pictures are going to help tell the greatest story of the Giants' modern history."
January 12th, 2011

Suzanna Mitchell Sports Photographer

Suzanna Mitchell is the assistant team photographer for the San Francisco Giants. In October, the team won the 2010 World Series in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers. Suzanna was on hand for the win, and in addition to telling us a bit about what that was like, she also talked to us about the conjunctions between photojournalism, branding, and telling a story through pictures.

How much of your time is spent in the office working on photos, as opposed to being out in the field shooting?

I spend a lot of time working on a computer editing photos. I edit the photos I shoot and those shot by my boss and colleague. Nowadays with the advantage of digital photography, the role editing plays is massive. I try to make it as thoughtful a process as I can and enjoy it despite the fact that it’s working at a desk and on a computer.

Are you ever on the sidelines taking pictures?

I don’t shoot a ton from the sidelines. When I do shoot during the games, what I do is called roaming, which is basically shooting from all over the park. It’s grueling but can be incredibly inspiring. I’m forced to stretch myself to take advantage of the variety of shots I can get and have the freedom to explore, which you don’t get when you’re shooting from the dugout. I also shoot a lot of events for our Community Fund which tends to be a lot of pictures of the players interacting with disadvantaged communities that benefit from the charitable work of the Giants.

I wanted to ask you about the shift digital photography has played in how photographers make and relate to their work. Does digital editing come naturally to you, or are there processes or historical notions that make it slightly uncomfortable?

I basically entered the field of professional photography in an era of greater accessibility. I’m sure there has always been a high level of competition in the field, but I feel that digital photography cut the costs and eliminated some complexities, opening it up to more people. I don’t think I’d have made it to where I am now without embracing my skills as an editor. Since it’s a less sought after position, I managed a foot in the door of professional photography by mastering editing and editing software. The jobs shooting came later. But I stand strongly by the importance of editing concisely. There is practically infinite space on the internet, but I don’t have an interest in flooding it with thousands of irrelevant and redundant images.

I know you studied photojournalism in school, and I wonder if you see your work for the Giants as an aspect of that. How do commercial aspects frame how you view and categorize your work?

My training as a photojournalist is relevant in that I still shoot mostly candid, story-telling photos. The difference is that I’m not tethered to the ethics of journalism. The way I edit is completely different from a journalist. I edit with the image we are promoting in mind.

Does Major League Baseball own all of your work?

MLB owns the pictures I shoot, which doesn’t affect they way I feel when shooting. I’m just as impassioned and determined as when shooting for myself. In exchange, they give me a platform to show my photos that I know will be seen (and a salary). Nowadays, most photos are shared online, which MLB is very controlling about. The matter of ownership is incredibly sticky when in comes to digital photography.  Once things are posted online, they can be copied easily and re-posted and image use tends to get abused.

How do you keep your independent practice separate from the issues that govern shooting for commercial and marketing purposes?

I’m incredibly cautious about how I share my work online. At this point in my career, I’m happy to shoot for the Giants and adhere to their ownership and copyright rules, while shooting on my own on the side. Since I’m making a living, I can let my personal photos percolate.

Can you tell me about the Giants’ World Series win? Did you travel with the team to Arlington?

The World Series win is still hitting me. It’s hard for me to believe it happened because while it was going on, I felt like I was occupying some alternate reality. I did go to Arlington, and there were some serious toasts on the plane, although we had two charter plans, so I was not riding with the team. The most memorable point for me was the homecoming victory parade in San Francisco. I was shooting and got kind of inside my head and came to realize that my pictures are going to help tell the greatest story of the Giants’ modern history, which is both an honor and incredibly weighty. I’m already seeing some of my shots become part of the iconography of the win, an honor I confronted at the parade when a million-plus Giants fans showed up and proved how much the team and the World Series win meant to them.

Can you talk more about the idea that you are telling the Giants’ story? Earlier, you discussed much of your work for the team in terms of its commercial aspect, but it sounds like your photos during the World Series shifted to more of a documentary practice. I think that’s one of things that interests me about your job–you’re both a marketing and a sports photographer.

Often when we shoot, the clearest purpose of our photos is the Giants archives. Then of course the season plays out based on the team’s performance, adding or subtracting value to most of the photos. In fact, many photos are probably seen for the first and last time by myself, as the primary editor. As the history evolves and the story of the Giants twists and turns, some pictures gain new value and are unearthed. Going into the playoffs this year we treated every game as if it was the last–well, except Game One of the National League Division Series, and so on. But you get my point. So until we won the NLDS, the photos of the Giants winning division were incredibly valuable. Then we progressed to the next round, and those became more valuable, and on and on. And if we win again next year, then of course the way we look at our photos from winning in 2010 will be through a different lens.

And where can we see some of your photos?

This is actually one of the hardest questions to answer! We’re still developing our material for 2011, so it is hard to be very specific at this point. I can tell you that the Giants 2011 Yearbook, which becomes available early in the season, will feature many photos from the 2010 playoffs. Otherwise, for non-Giants photos I keep a blog which I wish I updated more, but sometimes the Giants keep me too busy.