Photographers in Focus: Ethan Sprague
The players and ballers of New York's West 4th Street courts
“I like to work with nutcases, people who don't conform,” says Milan-born filmmaker Alex Grazioli, who found the oddball photographer and subject of Ethan Sprague: The Camera and the Cage through yet another unorthodox character. Grazioli, who splits his time between New York City and London, was working on a feature documentary about Abel Ferrara, and after sharing a slice at Gotham’s famed Joe’s Pizza, Ferrara suggested they go watch some basketball down the street. Grazioli was struck by the in-your-face nature of the games at the courts on the corner of West 4th Street and 6th Avenue, where a fence barely separates players from passersby and onlookers. “[There was] this weird-looking older guy taking photographs, this geek amidst all these black guys with ripped bodies,” says Grazioli, describing Ethan Sprague.
A few years later, setting out to film a series of love letters to NYC, Grazioli began to document the man obsessively documenting this “jail cell of alpha dogs” as Sprague calls the court scenario. Sprague has lived nearby for most of his life and since the age of 11 has amassed 9,000-plus images of this place, all shot on his Nikkorex. .
Having studied psychology, sociology and anthropology, Grazioli’s interest in human quirk isn’t surprising, but he always knew he wanted to direct. While at film school he doggedly pursued an interaction with #QuentinTarantino who advised him to drop out and just do it. .
Animation: Toby Heard (@tobyheard)