“You’re an American, you know what to do.”
Ernest Withers to Bill Chapman
Bill Chapman has had many ambitions in life. Two of them became impossible to separate from each other during his early age. The first is to be as close to the game of baseball as he could possibly position himself. The second was to become a photographer of many things and in doing so, use a camera to record his impressions of his world rather than do so by writing.
Growing up near Fenway Park, he quickly made use of five cent bus fares and fifty cent general admission tickets. Soon, a Polaroid was added to his repertoire. As providence would have it, he wound up attending Mass College of Art and majoring in photography. The college is even closer to Fenway than his childhood home. Independent study, pass-fail academic classes and two dollar bleachers led to sun drenched afternoons not spent behind a desk. Having graduated to 35mm cameras and an inoculation of style borrowed from the great street photographers of the day, Chapman shot street-wise and pound foolish.
After a decade of endless chatter, Chapman hit the road in the 1990’s and left a puff of white dust like a resin bag hitting the pitcher’s mound. After photographing in all existing twenty-six Major League ballparks of the time, he began to turn his attention to the Minor Leagues, with a particular home base being The Pawtucket Red Sox. Seeing an exhibit of Dr. Ernest Wither’s photographs of the Negro Leagues, spurred him to first meet and then establish a friendship with Dr. Withers that continued until his passing in 2007. He spent much time assisting Dr. Withers and began to explore the American South on his own.
Bill Chapman’s photographs have been presented at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, Harvard University and many other galleries and institutions. Many books contain his images, most notably “Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston,” by Howard Bryant.