It takes a certain amount of care and attention to capture the beauty in objects that are easily overlooked, and photography instructor Bill Bamberger has spent the last 13 years doing just that. His upcoming photography exhibition “Courtside” reveals the beauty, history, and significance hidden in, of all things, basketball hoops. 

“It’s the kind of thing where it’s hard to stop. We’re obsessive creatures,” Bill Bamberger said of artists like himself, whose work with the ordinary reveals something more. 

“Courtside” spawned from a desire to travel and to embark on more a solitary photographic project, tells the stories of places and of the communities that design, use and thrive in those spaces. For Bamberger, whose previous work leans toward portraiture — and therefore inherently depends on a human relationship — the basketball landscapes of his “Courtside” project can tell us even more about a community.

In an artist’s statement, Bamberger writes, “A photograph of [a] court taken without people is about a period of time, the layered history of a place. It is about the people who played on that court, the people who built that community, who have come and gone ... [These courts] make us think about all the life that led up to this moment, this expression, this place.” 

Bamberger’s basketball landscapes tell the story of our connections as human beings and reflect the ways in which relationships are built. An American sport, basketball is played by people in communities all around the world. The images in this collection come from over 40 states in the U.S. and almost a dozen different countries. Though used for the same purpose, a basketball court in Rwanda looks entirely different than a basketball court in Arizona — the colors, architecture, landscape and materials of these spaces are some of the most dissonant. But it is the differences in these images that interest Bamberger, and these differences show us something about who we are as members of our own communities. 

Thirteen years and over 60 final images later, Bamberger is ready to exhibit his collection of basketball landscapes in a co-curated exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art. For this exhibition, “Courtside” will include 26 images, co-curated with the help of four Curatorial Practicum class students: senior Savannah Chauvet, juniors Janie Booth and Brittany Halberstadt and sophomore Jessica Chen.

According to Bamberger, co-curated exhibitions are a fairly unusual endeavor. 

“They were involved in every aspect — selecting, sequencing, laying out the exhibition, writing the introduction and caption text,” he said. “They had a lot of latitude to do this. They were remarkable in the way that they approached [co-curating this exhibition].” 

Given that Bamberger’s basketball landscapes included a healthy mix of national and international; digital, film and medium format; warm and cool colors; and large and small sizes, the student curators had no easy task in helping assemble the work into a cohesive exhibit. 

The Nasher exhibition is the first time Bamberger’s “Courtside” work has been shown as a complete body. Slated for next spring, Bamberger will present a larger installation of his “Courtside” project at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. 

“Exhibition has become a great excuse to wrap up a project,” Bamberger said, adding that he did not know whether he would continue his basketball landscape work. The National Building Museum exhibition “might be a nice time to say, ‘this is it.’”

In the meantime, Bamberger said he plans to continue to photograph domestically and abroad. In particular, he is excited to return to Rwanda with his second cohort of DukeEngage students. Bamberger began his Rwanda portraiture project in 2014 in an effort to document the lives of the now-grown orphans whose parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Since the start of that project, Bamberger has shifted focus to explore the ways in which the resilient Rwandese live their daily lives in the face of contemporary issues including access to healthcare and water. 

“Courtside” opens to the public on Friday, Jan. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the Nasher Museum of Art. Bill Bamberger and the student co-curators of Bamberger’s exhibition will speak at the opening. 

Editor's note: The article has been updated to include the names of the four students involved in the curatorial showcase.