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O Magazine


By Joan Pons

There was a time when more than three million people played Spot the ball, a paid pastime featured weekly in the sports section of British newspapers that asked readers to speculate on the position of the ball, duly erased, on a photograph from a football match.



And despite the fact that on-line editions make this contest way easier than before (one no longer has to fill in and send a coupon), Spot the ball is suffering a strange and quite particular decadence: only around fourteen thousand readers still play it and nobody has won the jackpot since 2004.

However, the ball pastime is not only still encouraged by British traditional newspapers, but also by popular web sites such as Buzzfeed (in a strategy of recycling vintage pastimes), where it is even extended to (although they’re not the first ones to do so) other sport disciplines.

The key to the always in fashion nature of Spot the ball, thus, cannot reside in the mere action of finding the ball. There needs to be something more. My guess is: that it’s a game in which the competitive element is the least important one. That is, it’s no longer a game. Trying to find the erased ball is only a McGuffin to question our prejudices when it comes to looking. We tend to think that a photograph taken during a football match gravitates around what the whole game gravitates around. That is: the ball. And it isn’t like that. The rules of photography are, obviously, very different. More concerned with vanishing point, the Fibonacci sequence or beauty stopped in time as moving shapes, colours and volumes, and not so much with the relevance of the precise moment of the game captured on the image (of which, surely, the ball would talk about shouldn’t have been erased).


I might be overanalysing things and people have just stopped playing Spot the ball because it’s become too complicated or they’re already tired of it. But yet, if the pastime still exists is because the contemplation of these images on which the capital element explaining them has been erased produces pleasure. There is an almost poetic je ne sais quoi in these Photoshop ellipses. It might be the enigmatic component of each image, their having become punctum without studium, or because the face and body of sportsmen in action are always highly expressive.

All this leads me to think that any image of the kind of Spot the ball, in fact, come from the celebrated photograph by Theodore Lux Feininger, Sports in Bauhaus (also known as 3):


In this photograph, taken in 1927, Xanti Schawinsky and Erich Consemüller, two students of the prestigious Walter Gropius school, bump into each other mid air. It could be entitled Collision between high jumper and goalkeeper in front of the Bauhaus building. It’s barely visible, but here too there is a half hidden ball (in case someone is already taken by the whole “spot the ball” thing and would like to try and spot it…). Although, again, the most important thing is something else altogether: the unexpected aesthetic balance that the practice of sport has placed in front of the photographer; the subtext of beauty in sport for sport’s sake, even if it’s two different disciplines; the affirmation than humans feel a need to bump into other humans and it’s safer to have the excuse of a ball to try and catch. Even an invisible one.