“Look at the wall,” David Mellor, the Boston Red Sox groundskeeper, said to sports photographer CJ Gunther. “Ok,” shrugged back Gunther. “No. Really look at it.” It was then that Gunther realized he was staring at hundreds of baseball marks scattered along Fenway’s famous Green Monster wall. “You need to come shoot pictures of these,” said Mellor.” And with Mellor’s declaration in 2009, CJ Gunther began his body of work, chronicling the detailed scars scattered across baseball’s arguably most famous wall. “My first reaction was awe. I’ve been coming here forever and never seen this,” recalls Gunther.
“I originally called them petroglyphs. But these are marks left by this sport, no one will come find years from now. The marks have a brief life, since they’re painted over each season. Some marks are distinct, others similar, but each has a uniqueness and they only happen once. They’re more like baseball fingerprints. And just like fingerprints are wiped away from a window, each season paints over the marks and covers these baseball prints.”
A veteran sports photographer, Gunther began going to the ballpark to photograph the marks on off days and before team batting practice. Using a tilt-shift lens, Gunther gets close to his subject while also trying to incorporate details beyond the “fingerprints.” Working mainly from the ground or a stepladder, Gunther has also scaled the wall on larger ladders perched along the Green Monster. “It’s not just composition,” he says, “it’s also texture, the details of the wall, the dirt, the bubbles in the paint. I liken it to finding a pretty shell along the shore.”
A fortuitous foul ball toss lead to one of Gunther’s favorite photos; a mark of gold detailing seen on the World Series baseballs. During game one, a Manny Ramirez foul ball was tossed to eager fans in the stands, but instead of reaching a young fan, the ball found Gunther’s cheek. Searching near his feet, Gunther couldn’t locate the rogue baseball. A few innings later, Gunther reached into his pocket, finding the elusive foul ball and revealing the special gold paint. Gunther knew he had to make a picture of gold having brushed the Green Monster. Watching the game carefully, Gunther noted the locations the balls hit and returned after the series to find his mark. Using binoculars, Gunther started in left field, hunting for the gold marks. When he found his target, the grounds crew lent Gunther a ladder, and he scaled the wall to make the picture. After shooting 60-some frames, Gunther used his fingernail to carefully flick at the mark, finding gold dust on his hand. “It had to be the hit from Daniel Nava. Thirty-six feet up.”
Now each season, Gunther’s phone rings with Dave Mellor on the other end of the line. “Hey, there’s one in the o in the O-U-T,” or “near the w, but above the 1898,” he’ll say, the latter being his directions to a mark near the famous W.B. Mason sign in the outfield. Throughout the project, Mellor has supported Gunther, once telling him, “You’re a photographer. I know grass.”
“I don’t know if I would have discovered this on my own. My friendship with David Mellor brought this to me. Dave sought me out and it became something no one else has done at Fenway, that I know. I couldn’t believe there was something new to photograph at Fenway—the park is 102 years old.”
Each baseball season is fleeting and fans return every year, intent to find both old and new aspects of the game. And so Gunther returns to photograph the Green Monster and the baseball graffiti tagged along the famous outfield wall. “I always think there’s a day I’m going to come out and say to myself, Oh wow, here is something I’ve never seen before.”