A recent interview with Agne Ziukaite, from “Sveiks Valio” football culture magazine.
Tony, when was the first time you became interested in photography and how you decided to become a professional photographer?
In my early 20s I’d finished a business degree and was searching for a career in anything but business or finance. I realised I needed a career in something I enjoyed, and so began several years of ‘side hustles’ as I tried to find that career. For a while I wanted to become a football writer and studied journalism while writing a weekly column for ESPN about the team I follow – Everton FC. But at the same time, I had become interested in photography and felt much more comfortable doing that than I did writing. After picking up the basics and shooting travel images for a couple of years, I began contributing photography to Lonely Planet, continuing to learn the craft while seeing my images appear in print and occasionally on covers, which was really exciting. Several years later, an opportunity arose to go full-time with photography, supplying the company I’d previously worked for with photography for 3 years. The subjects were wide ranging, from shooting reportage and travel stories, to corporate portraiture and industrial sites. It was a steep learning curve but an amazing period of my life, being able to switch careers to something completely different and what I loved doing.
Which describes you better: street photographer, photojournalist or visual storyteller?
It’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve practiced different types of photography over the past 10-15 years. Broadly speaking, I shoot documentary type subjects but I do this on the artistic side as opposed to photojournalism. And that includes quite a lot of street photography but also some scenic work to set the scenes of whatever story I’m shooting.
You are from England, the birthplace of football. What does football mean to you?
Football was a big thing growing up and even now, in my early 40s I read and talk about it way more than I probably should. But what else makes you feel what football does. The tribalism that goes hand-in-hand with supporting a team and the sort of emotions that stares up; from euphoria to despair and everything in-between. And Whatever’s happening politically and socially in the world often leaks into football too so its an endlessly fascinating subject that’s never dull. Ultimately its entertainment though, and when its at its best, I can’t think of anything else that rivals football for entertaining people. What feels better than beating your biggest rivals or seeing an underdog win when nobody gave them a chance?
What made you start photographing football, and in particular from a daily life perspective rather than the big stadiums and fans?
As I mentioned earlier, I started out through Travel Photography, like a lot of people do these days. The good part of that is that anyone can do it really, just pick up a camera and off you go. The downside is that you don’t really have any education in photography or the history of it, and there’ll be large gaps in knowledge. At some point I was at a travel photography event and a speaker was emphasising the point that ‘the destination is not the story’. You need to look deeper, scratch the surface and show people something they haven’t necessarily seen about a place. If you can do it over a longer period of time, you’ll have something much more interesting than travel images. It sounds quite obvious now but at the time I’d been more used to pursuing single images and shooting the same iconic scenes that everybody else was, but this was clearly the approach I needed to take. I was still doing a lot of overseas assignments at that time and about to head to Brazil for one, so I decided to shoot football culture on my next trip there, a subject I was obviously interested in and would want to stick with over time. This was something I continued to shoot in Rio de Janeiro over several trips in the year running up to the 2014 World Cup.
Could you describe your photography style? What are the most important goals in your photos?
My style has generally been about colourful, graphic images but I would say that’s changing over time and I’m trying to shoot more complex images these days with more going on in the frame. So that style is evolving all the time. And these days I’m less interested in the single image and more drawn towards photobooks and the magic of putting images together to make something very unique, layered and compelling in print. That’s something I aspire to do some day.
Could you describe what football means for locals in Rio?
It did hit home how much a part of daily life the game is for lots of people in Rio. Particularly in favelas (where I spent a lot of time shooting this), where a football court is often at the centre of the community; where people meet every evening for a kick-around or just to hang out and catch up. Life is lived outside and on the streets, in a very sociable way. There’s a real community feel and football is a big part of that. Its what gets people together in the first place and is clearly a key part of the culture. Maybe it can also be an escape too, from what must be difficult places to live.
Did Brazil change your view of football? The purity of the game definitely stood out in Rio. It is ‘grass roots’ football being played in the most basic and often other worldly surroundings, so you can’t help but see the beauty of it compared to the more moneyed and often sterile version of the game that we have in the UK and Europe. To me, it feels a bit like that pure aspect of the game is dying out a bit, and that’s why I was so drawn to it in Rio and wanted to photograph it.
Besides Rio, you also had another incredible photo essay “Football, the religion” about monks playing football in Myanmar. Do you know your next destination for shooting football?
After shooting these series of Rio and Myanmar, I felt that it would be hard to improve if I only shot football culture, so I moved onto other subjects. With football, it seemed like I was taking the same types of shots over and over. Moving onto other stories that I was less familiar with, has hopefully helped me to improve and look for the less obvious pictures too. But yes, I’d love to shoot more football culture in future if I get the chance. Rather than start something new, I’d prefer to do more on ‘Cidade do Futebol’ in Rio de Janeiro. I’d like to show much more about Rio, it’s people and culture than I have so far, but with football still holding the story together.
You can see the full series here.