Truthfully, this project has little to do with basketball. What I am trying to do is explore why as a city, we neglect half of it,” Chicago-based photographer Adam Jason Cohen says.
“Why are there no resources for the youth? Where is the funding? The infrastructure? There is a growing wealth gap, especially in the advent of gentrification in some of these neighborhoods, that is creating much more problems than [what’s] being spoken about.”
These are the questions that Cohen has been considering since May 2015, when he started work on “Hoop Dreams.” The photographic series, which he also self-published in August, highlights basketball courts and their occupants in several south- and west-side communities. Many of the baskets have been fashioned out of milk crates or are otherwise in serious need of replacement and repair.
“The ultimate goal of this body of work is to function in a larger book form that spans at least another year,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail. “It’s a project that I feel is important enough to last through all four seasons twice. I’m exploring spaces and people that change through time, and logging those evolutions with exposures is an important aspect of this project. I think of ‘Hoop Dreams’ as the EP or mixtape and what’s to come of the project as the LP. Currently, I’m seeking funding through grants, albeit, in very small increments to continue the project further. When I shoot work I don’t think about how my photographs will look on a wall, I think about how they will function in book form. There is a flow and cadence to having a great sequence of images that assists the work and makes more sense to me than a few photos on a wall can ever have. The idea of having two images rest on pages opposite of each other and what happens when you turn the page forward or backwards and how that functions in storytelling is what interests me the most.
“The impetus of this project, like most of my work, is driven by the human condition and social landscape and the sheer resiliency of the people most affected,” Cohen added. “Obviously, we have underserved communities in Chicago, they exist in the South and West sides, that is no secret. All my time living here and visiting other places, what I found is that basketball, the Bulls, and Michael Jordan is literally the first thing you think of when you mention the name Chicago. But why is that with the advent of globalization of the game of basketball . . . why are the youth left with a complete lack of resources to enjoy a simple game in a safe space? That’s something I can’t wrap my head around.”
The book has so far garnered plenty of interest. Cohen says he sold out of 125 copies at Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair at PS1 MOMA and the Independent Art Book Fair over the same weekend earlier this fall.
But perhaps more importantly, Cohen hopes this series leads to structural change in Chicago. “I would hope people can ask how we can invest in our youth and ultimately what would the impact of that be. Everyone deserves to start the race at the starting line. Unfortunately, a lot of people are playing the game of life with a handicap. That is something that needs to be addressed. When you stop asking questions is when you stop learning. My goal is obviously to have safer spaces built and cared for by the city and/or private investors. I really wanted this to reach Dwyane Wade especially since he has come home now, growing up in Chicago, and he has the means to help and is aware of the lack of resources for the kids. Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, Anthony Davis were all top picks recently in the NBA drafts from Chicago and grew up and played high school ball here I’d like this to reach as well.” v—Danielle A. Scruggs