Sunday, April 24, 2011

Interview with baseball card photographer Mike Janes

Mike Janes of Attica, NY is a professional sports photographer whose work has appeared on baseball cards for Topps, Donruss, Tri-Star, and Just. He owns Mike Janes Photography and is co-founder of Four Seam Images, a photo agency specializing in amateur and professional baseball. He kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

- Do you have any stories about cards that you took the picture for? I would be especially interested in any behind the scenes stories about individual cards.

Most of the cards are action shots, so there's not many stories behind them really beyond long drives, sleeping in parking lots or crappy hotels, underpaid and overworked. Nothing too big with the players or weird happenings as of yet, sometimes guys don't care while others want to help pick the photo - even though we often don't have a say in which image will get used and the card company will just pick which one they like best, that could mean a portrait or action shot, just never know until the set is released.

Chase Utley team issue rookie - the GM came down to the field telling me he was joining the team but the set had gone to print, so he called them and put it on hold. First thing Chase did in a Batavia uniform was come out to my smiling face waiting for him to go through some poses, pretty sure we developed the film immediately as we didn't even wait until his first at bat to get an action shot. Want to say the photo was to the printer by the time the game started, and being film days meant trips to the lab.
There was some new guy with Lowell while they played in Batavia in 2002, not on the roster though so I pretty much ignored him. He walked by me a few times before an autograph collector whispered to me that I should get his photo but to not tell the other photographer. So I grabbed the kid and did some photos down in the dugout, had to go back and get his name from the grapher later. The other photographer ignored the kid, didn't even bother shooting him when he went to bat. Was told later by an editor those were the first photos of him in the United States, and they had been looking for some desperately. So one of the poses and the first at bat turned into Hanley Ramirez first cards put out by Just Minors.
Honestly one of my favorite photos was never a card, though I desperately wanted it to be. I drove down to Utica, NY from college and found another photographer was there as well with the same intentions I had - get Adrian Gonzalez! Adrian had just gotten there and of course was who everyone wanted being the first overall pick. However, the pitching coach said we should also get the other guy that just got to town too, some skinny little 17 year old named Miguel Cabrera. Miggy did not speak English but he loved having his photo taken! Did a few portrait type shots, nothing great so I snuck out to third base before the national anthem to get him talking and joking with teammates, one of the pitchers saw this so got him laughing really good, big smile and then told him to turn towards me - instantly one of my favorite shots. He then posed for one similar just in case but a teammate by the name of Pat Magness was in the background making a weird face. Always wanted that for a card, the one without Pat, never happened.

- Do you have a favorite card, either one taken by you or someone else?

My first few cards with Topps stick out the most, not the best photos, just firsts. Vito Chiaravalloti, who won the Triple Crown in the NYP League, believe was my first card issued by a major company, along with Logan Kensing and Jason Hirsh....2004 Bowmans.
I also made Vito pose with 3 bats for winning the triple crown, he was OK with it but not the most enthusiastic - that ended up being his Topps Cracker Jack card so was worth it. They actually sat him the last game just to make sure he preserved the crown.
Hirsh is still a good friend to this day, with his card we were yelled at by the pitching coach to not go on the field because he was not in full uniform, which is a rule of the Astros organization - Jason ignored the warning and went to the bullpen area to do the photo instead - a very basic headshot that ended up being his rookie card, every time I'm around and he's asked to sign it he tells them to have me sign it as well - don't remember anyone taking him up on that offer though.
Do not really have a favorite though, just some that mean something. Like having the first few cards of a local kid who was drafted by the Yankees, Cito Culver, Donruss did cards of him in his high school uniform so it's nice to have taken those images of a local player. Strasburg's first card once officially making his debut in "AA" was an E-Topps issue from Harrisburg, all the hype around him was great to have been there to take his images for that, also had another Topps card that featured his instructional league debut.
My personal favorites are the late '80's cards I collected when growing up '87-89 really - still have everything from then.

- Do you collect baseball cards?

I try to get the ones that have my images, however has become extremely difficult over the past few years.

Beyond that not much anymore, did for awhile and still have all my old cards, just don't get time to go after new ones. First boxes I bought in a long time were Topps Pro Debut last year to try and put together that set, but mostly because almost 1/3rd the set was my photos.


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