In the Temples of Indiana High School Basketball

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In the Temples of Hoosier Hardwood

Credit Michael E. Keating

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Let’s say you happen to be in Indiana and you run across a basketball court — and let’s just stop right there. You go to Indiana, it’s hard to imagine you won’t run across a basketball court. They’re like Starbucks there, only it may be easier to get a seat at Starbucks.

“Indiana is known as a place where basketball is sort of like the sport,” said Michael E. Keating, a photographer. “It’s kind of like the religion. If basketball’s a religion, then the gymnasiums — they’re the places where people worship. They’re the churches, the temples.”

For the past several years, Mr. Keating and his colleague Chris Smith have crisscrossed the state, traveling more than 10,000 miles and photographing more than 100 school gymnasiums. There is no lack of choices. People in Indiana, as anyone who saw the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” knows, view basketball the way Southerners view football. Texas can keep its Friday night lights. Nine of the country’s 10 biggest high school gyms, the photographers say, are in Indiana.

They both say the appeal is not really the basketball. “We’re there for everything that surrounds the game,” Mr. Keating said.

Mr. Smith said, “We like to have people in the gyms.” But for the photographers, it’s fine if it is just a practice or even a graduation. “When there was some kind of activity,” he said, “the gyms kind of came to life.”


Forest Park High School players jumped off their sideline seats as their team scored on a 3-point shot during an Indiana High School Athletic Association sectional championship game in Huntingburg, Ind.Credit Michael E. Keating

The project began when Mr. Smith ran across a hand-tinted photograph of his grandfather in an old team photograph and wanted to learn more. A longtime commercial photographer who also teaches photography to college students, he reached out to Mr. Keating, who had retired from The Cincinnati Enquirer after decades as a general assignment photographer. Both men are 63.

Their backgrounds are reflected in their approach to their work. Mr. Keating, Mr. Smith said, is drawn to emotion, while he tends to try to capture something a little less fleeting. Each has learned from the other.

“I envy how he sees,” Mr. Keating said. “Because my whole training, my whole emphasis for so long was on a moment.”

Getting good shots can be challenging, in part because the light in gyms is not always cooperative, Mr. Smith said. And let’s face it: Not every church is Chartres, and not every gym is inspiring.

“Some gyms,” Mr. Keating said, choosing his words with a diplomat’s care, “just are not interesting.”

But for these two photographers, a dull gym is the exception.

See more photos of Indiana high school basketball photos on the Hoosier Hardwood blog

Follow @thekeatinglens and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. Lens is also on Facebook and Instagram.

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