The culture of football takes on numerous different forms that appeal to different types of fans – a big part of what makes football so special.
For those who appreciate the aesthetics that surround the beautiful game, great photography and stadium architecture go hand in hand. Each football stadium, ground, park or playground have something unique that can be effortlessly appreciated by those for whom football plays a central role in their lives.
Matt Barnes of Gazzetta Studio has built an impressive photographic portfolio of football stadiums that he has visited around the world. With an eye for a great moment and picture, Barnes takes in many of those subcultures that make up football culture; the fans, the food, the graffiti street art, but revels in capturing the wonderful architecture of those sacred grounds that he has visited.
Happy to admit he’ll align himself with any team on his travels that captures his ‘imagination’, south east London born Barnes spoke to Lower Block about his appreciation of brutalist architecture and straight lines, and his experiences in capturing football culture around the world.
Lower Block: Tell us a a bit about yourself and your photographic work; who do you support and what are your earliest memories of the game?
Matt Barnes: I work in the corporate world, I learnt a while ago, if your passion is your profession, you can quickly fall out of love with it.
To be completely honest, I do not support anyone properly anymore. I used to be Arsenal, but now I tend to ‘support’ any team I come across on my travels that captures my imagination. HJK Helsinki are the latest.
I always loved Totti, Maldini, Buffon growing up, a typical Football Italia kid. I once saw Buffon in a pointless friendly in Turin, but couldn’t take my eyes off him. I have been lucky to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, but really enjoyed Sergio Ramos being the antihero. But stadiums tend to be more spellbinding to me.
LB: What was it that drew you towards football?
MB: Football is the game for everyone right? I appreciate and understand tactics, xG (expected goals), underlapping wingers etc, but nothing else in the world, not music, art, any other sport, can illicit these reactions from people, for good and bad. I have never felt the sheer elation at a last minute winner, or anger at losing a derby, because I have never really been a fan of a team. But watching this happen, from a distance, uniquely in each country, city, or town, is what keeps me going.
LB: It’s clear that Gazzetta Studios isn’t just the work of a ground-hopping addict. You clearly have an eye and appreciation for details. How did it all come about it, how did you get into photography?
MB: Truthfully, I didn’t. I just have an obsessive, record keeping nature. I have a strange fear that I won’t be able to remember certain parts of my life, so I obsessively keep details, and photographs take me back to a particular time.
LB: It’s a really impressive portfolio you’ve compiled, where there any particular challenges you faced – for example getting close to fans or accessibly to a certain area?
MB: Twice my youth has got me into trouble. In Basel, I was photographing the ultras, who threatened me and made me the delete the pictures, lesson learned! In Tilburg, I was taking pictures of the concrete roof, and the Dutch police stopped me, checked my ID and thought I was a potential terrorist. Also, in Rio, with the Botafogo ultras, I was ‘encouraged’ to enjoy some of their local tobacco, the game was a blur from there…
LB: What was it about taking pictures and telling stories through images that interested you, where there any particular influences?
MB: The best wordsmiths can paint a picture, but everyone inteprets it differently, which is no bad thing. A photo snaps a moment, unique to your perspective, provides factual context to a split second, that could otherwise be lost. No one will see what you have seen, the fan next to me sees something different.
The Bauhaus movement is something that really interests me, as a complete art philistine. I love the clean lines, and neat and purposeful designs. Le Corbusier is someone I am learning more about. The five points of architecture really resonates with stadiums.
LB: And in terms of football as a culture, and the subcultures that make it up – what resonates with you the most visually?
MB: For me, it’s architecture. A building is the ultimate physical representation of a place, a brand, an identity. It looses all meaning without people to give it life. The way the players, the fans, the staff move around and interact with the space and the social acts. The curves and the straight lines, the seats, the tunnels, the floodlights. All of these things and more help to nurture the unique culture, each team has. Seeing how people gather outside, free from any of the rules of the stadium is also fascinating. The goading of the other fans, the shackles are off. What are they drinking? Eating? Smoking? So much goes on before the turnstiles clack open, the pre game is a game itself. The colours everywhere are almost overwhelming, you have the black and white, monochrome brutalism of Botafogo, and the delirious red and modernism of Bilbao. The beauty is everywhere.
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