Amateur fashion photographer Mike Rohrbaugh ’04 wanted to explore the “old school” collegiate tradition of Yale. He imagined taking seven male athletes and photographing them in a classic Yale setting, striving for a vintage team feel.
Rohrbaugh’s final product is a poster of several Yale’s athletes titled “The Men of Yale,” which he hopes to frame in several restaurants and business around New Haven.
“We hoped to make our project into something of a commemorative thing,” Rohrbaugh said. “We hoped we could get Yorkside or Mory’s to frame it and put it up so in 20 years we can come back and see our poster hanging up.”
When Rohrbaugh first conceived the idea for the project, he contacted Whitney Seibel ’06 and Emmy Harris ’06, two models-turned-photographers who had produced a calendar of first-year Trumbull males last fall.
“When Mike first approached me, he brought in pictures from Vanity Fair,” Seibel said. “He also talked about the old team photos. They aren’t boring group photos of individuals, but cohesive group pictures that drew the team together.”
Rohrbaugh put Seibel and Harris in charge of casting. According to Rohrbaugh, they “went through every single male athlete in the facebook” and produced a preliminary list of 60 to 70 male athletes.
“We were looking for hot guys,” Seibel said. “We were not only going for beauty, but for ethnic diversity, trying to represent the Yale athlete. We were kind of after an Abercrombie look, but with the clothes, of course.”
Aiming to find a balance of different sports and ethnicities, Seibel and Harris narrowed their list down to 15 athletes, seven of whom agreed to model. The athletes all represent different sports: track and field, football, crew, baseball, polo, fencing and cheerleading.
“We wanted a classic kind of setting, but with a very diverse cast of characters,” Rohrbaugh said. “We got the whole spectrum of what the Yale athlete is.”
Rohrbaugh said photographers Bruce Weber and Annie Leibovitz, as well his professor David Hilliard, have influenced his artistic conception for the project.
“There was an aesthetic I was trying to get that evoked a specific era … an Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald feel, the impression that you get went you walk by J. Press — of a different era,” he said. “Earlier team portraits were constructed very differently. They have more of a lounging type of pose.”
Rohrbaugh searched though Yale yearbook portraits from the beginning of the 20th century, trying to evoke the character of Yale a century ago in his own photography.
Silliman’s common room, which Rohrbaugh selected for its rich wood paneling, marble fireplace, candelabra and portrait, served as the location of the shoot.
According to track and field jumper Jihad Beauchman ’06, who participated as a model, the shoot lasted four to five hours. Rohrbaugh operated the camera, while Seibel and Harris assisted with lighting and positioning the athletes.
“The aesthetics weren’t perfect, so they would constantly be moving me,” Beauchman said. “They would move an arm or tell you to tilt your head a little bit to the right. They had a diagram that they were going to go by, but in the end only one guy was in his original position.”
Rohrbaugh plans to distribute the posters for free as holiday gifts to students because selling them would be in violation of NCAA rules for varsity athletes.
“The biggest problem we actually had was that we couldn’t sell the poster at all,” Rohrbaugh said. “According to the NCAA regulations, athletes cannot use their name or face to endorse any commercial product.”
For his next project, Rohrbaugh is considering a calendar of Yale’s fraternities.
“I want to create tableaus of frat parties, almost like movie stills,” Rohrbaugh said of his upcoming project. “At first you don’t realize that this is a frat party, but then, on the edge of the frame, you see a girl talking on a cell phone, or a guy pumping a keg, and you slowly realize what is happening.”
For now, Rohrbaugh is trying to contact New Haven establishments to display his poster.
“I hope that a place like Mory’s would hang it on their walls alongside pictures of athletes from the past 100 years. That would be cool, amazing. That was the purpose of the project all along,” Rohrbaugh said.