Art of Basketball: Austin Bell ’10 Finds Beauty Courtside
Austin Bell ’10 travels the world telling stories of its beauty.
From the deep green forests of Ecuador to the glaciers of Iceland, his photos capture the bold, brilliant blues of the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan bird, and the palate of pinks painted across the sky at sunset.
He has some form of camera—video, drone, DSLR and cellphone—with him always. That wouldn’t surprise his classmates, who remember him as the force behind The Davidson Show, a sketch and variety TV show that featured and entertained the college community during his time on campus.
He worked with other student collaborators, including Stephen Curry, who joined friends for “takeovers” of the show and garnered some of its highest ratings. So, it seems fitting that Bell’s current project circles back to basketball.
He’s spent the past few years shooting some 2,800 basketball courts in 15 countries around the world, which he believes is the most on record. He’s shot extensively in New York City, Puerto Rico and Hong Kong. He uses a drone camera and considers himself a “hunter,” landing in a neighborhood, then trekking in search of its rims and hoops.
“Basketball courts are my photographic anchor because they are jarringly stark and unfamiliar visually from above,” he says. “Their placement and decoration give a unique window into the city or area around them. These three locations with their unusual abundance of courts have sparked my obsession.”
He returned to Hong Kong in November, three years after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted his quest to shoot every one of its estimated 2,400 basketball courts. He’s shot around 1,600 so far.
“You learn how each city uses a court: In Hong Kong they are bright playground distractions from the skyscraper density surrounding them, yet they’re used just as often for hanging laundry as shooting hoops,” he says. “There are so many variations, and different forms of building and landscape architecture. Some have murals that really stand out.
“You can’t help but look at their purpose and design as a reflection of Hong Kong’s politically interesting and fraught nature.”
Bell plans to publish a book of his basketball court photos. It would be his third. Others include the photography book, Birding: The First Two Years, and Horse Show Boyfriend, a humorous take about life on the sidelines of the equestrian world.
Visually, the basketball courts intrigue him. And they also remind him of his classmate and friend:
“After getting to know and watching Stephen Curry play during my formative years, it’s hard not to think of a basketball court as a magical place.”
This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 print issue of the Davidson Journal Magazine; for more, please see the Davidson Journal section of our website.