Whilst we're still working out what to do with our weekends now that the football season is finished, over in the US the MLS is in full swing. This summer we're teaming up with LA Galaxy and their club photographer Stephanie Romero to photograph their female football fan audience. We took some to time to have a chat about her photographic experience, and how she got involved with LA Galaxy.....
Hey Steph. Thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us. For those who don't know you, could you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Hey, I'm Stephanie and I'm a photographer for LA Galaxy. I'm an LA local, have been all my life having grown up in Whittier, a town outside the city. I’m the baby of my family, with only an older brother to blame for me being raised in sports and on the American football field but I've always been pretty creative and interested in photography. I took a traditional black and white 35mm film class at night school and fell in love. It was like my own form of magic, creating an image in my mind, and seeing it be revealed in a two minute developer.
How did you start working in photography? Were you trained, and if so, where?
I started photography when I was 16 - I saw it more as a hobby then, but in college I really saw how I could impact the world with photos and so I transferred schools and trained at Art Center College of Design where I learned everything technical there is to know about photography. I had training on the outside, working at local studios, and photographing candid imagery for schools, and photo ID’s. I remember when I would shoot photo ID’s that I would pretend to be similar to Richard Avedon, when he'd photograph the military photo ID’s. I use to think, if Avedon could do it, I could it!
What do you love most about photography? And why did your specification become sports and portrait?
My favourite thing about photography is the way one emotion can be understood by many. I find that people always reach out about an image that made them feel a certain way. We all are humans, and photography allows us to feel the same emotion no matter what language you speak. I have always been intrigued by people, their stories, opinions, the reactions they have. I found that in portraiture I was really able to have people open up. It’s amazing how when you talk with someone, they can reveal only so much, but if you put a camera between you and the subject, there eyes speak to the lens. It's a confessional, suddenly you as a photographer disappear, and it’s just the subject and the camera speaking their own language.
In terms of my route in to sports photography, I never really chose sports, sports kinda chose me! I took a class at Art Center and my two mentors Andy Bernstein and Tony Di Zinno told me I had an eye for sports. I remember laughing and thinking they were joking, but they challenged me to give everything I had creatively for fourteen weeks to a high school American football team. I fell in love with sports and everything about it and I still fall in love with sports everyday.
What are some of the favourite projects you've worked on so far?
Each project I've worked on has been totally different to the next - which is great I guess! I find that each team and athlete brings their own set of challenges and vulnerabilities. No one project has ever been the same for me, which has taught me to work with so many personalities. One of my favourite projects has probably been the World Game Special Olympics Photography Project and book. One moment that really stays with me was when I was shooting open water swimming. It was a long race and this African swimmer, who spoke no English, was struggling to get to the finish line. He crossed it and amid the crowd of cameras he found mine and just knelt in front of me, gazing just slightly to the side. I remember thinking this was a gift, so I took a couple of shots and then I put the camera down. I remember he looked me straight into the eye and nodded. He then slowly got up and walked away. I remember that connection I felt with him. Someone I had never known, would probably never see again, but he fully trusted me to tell his story. Only photography can do that.
Another favourite project I have been a part of has been the LA Galaxy match programs for the 2017 games. It started really as a voice of my own, wanting to push the limits on how I viewed the players at practice. When you work with the Galaxy, you start to understand the personalities and voices that each athlete has. I started to interpret that through double exposure and collage work. Just testing it out, I released it on my own social media channels and the response was much more than I had expected. I remember coming to work one day and everyone was asking about the stuff I'd put out. After a few more shoots, Galaxy approached me and asked me to create the match cover for the home opener. My working relationship has grown with them since then. I love that I can use my own personal voice, but still put forward a truth about a player. Being able to have a direct impact on the LA Galaxy community has been incredibly rewarding as well.
What do you think before you press the button?
So many things run through my head. How does the light look, does the body look best in this form, does the athlete or subject look powerful and real to the audience, is the gesture genuine? I don't have to think much about the technicality anymore, but I try and focus on the subject itself and the most honest moments.
Do you support the club yourself, or do you have other clubs you support?
I support LA Galaxy and always will. I owe so much of my knowledge and love of this sport to the athletes themselves and the internal staff. I can distinctively remember the day that one of our players taught me what a nutmeg was at practice. He explained it to me and said, “so the next time you see that you will know what a nutmeg is.” I feel extremely grateful to them and Galaxy because they have shown nothing but patience as I created my own female voice within this club.
As a woman in soccer, do you ever feel outnumbered?
Yes, all of the time! I find that being a female in soccer or in any sport, you find you hang out and work more with males. I don't think it’s bad, but I find that I get a lot of respect from guys in terms of being able to handle multiple situations. I think a lot of respect comes from anyone in sports towards female photographers because it’s not a glamorous job. I mean I have countless stories of getting hit by balls, players, laying on the wet grass, sweating with the guys in the gym. It’s an intense atmosphere, but because I can handle those difficult situations and still profess an artistic voice, people respond pretty well to that. I look at it as this really awesome job, where my office place is a field. Not everyone gets to say that, so you take the challenges and the moments you feel outnumbered and you just go!
How would you describe being a female fan in the US?
I'm so proud to be a female soccer supporter, and especially for the women's game, cos with that you know it’s standing for something more than yourself. It’s important to make your support known as a female, because in America, MLS isn't as big as other American sports, so there feels like there is less of an opportunity for you to make that known. I find that with myself and female friends who are supporters of soccer, that we know the game and make it a point to be proud that you can understand the game. It isn't just a thing to do, you have to love it!