18 May 2017

 

Looking at the world through a different lens, Dana Rösinger seeks to create an image of football beyond the photoflash celebrity photography of stadium stars. Her champions are the young girls and boys on the pitches of grassroots organisations all over the world. She showcases the people that social impact programmes are reaching and gives their stories a face.

 

How did your interest in football and photography get started?

Photography was always a passion of mine. I started when I was 12 years old with an old reflex camera. I was always focusing on people.  Regarding football, the German national team had won the World Cup in 1990, right when the wall had come down.

 

At the time, my father was working in advertising for football, and as I looked closer into his work, I developed a passion for it. I had spent the years following the fall of the wall travelling around the world. I was discovering new people and countries, and I realized that everywhere I went, football was a way to connect with people.

 

Once in Myanmar, I even had this experience where we wanted to go out and asked for some advice on where to go. A lady suggested we go to a movie, and on our walk there, we ended up in an animal barn where over 200 monks were watching a football match between Manchester City and Manchester United. I was the only woman, and it turned into this memory that still gives me goosebumps because, even when you travel to the smallest cracks of the world, football is following you.

 

It kept happening – whenever I would travel, I would bring things from Germany, usually football related, and as soon as I began interacting with people from other places, football became our common language.

 

How did you come to get involved with streetfootballworld?

I had originally heard of streetfootballworld through friends. I reached out to get a better idea of what they were planning to do back in 2008 and 2009. At the time, they were opening their first Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha and they asked me if I wanted to help document its opening. I thought it would be a good idea because, well, I love football, and I was interested in what streetfootballworld was doing and how they were building up their organisation. So I said yeah, why not? Before that, I was doing photography mostly as a personal hobby on my journeys and I was often focusing on football.

 

So I went to Khayelitsha and it was interesting to see how the whole programme was set up. I got to know the kids, and actually there was one moment that has really been burned in to my memory.

 

There was this one day that we took an excursion to the Cape of Good Hope. Although there are not many pictures of me in front of the camera, one of the girls participating told me that she wanted to take a picture with me and we did. The same evening, we organised an event for all these kids so that they could connect and tell their stories. So this girl that had asked me to take a picture with her told her story, and it was incredible. She had said, “I am here because Grassroot Soccers saved my life. I was raped, I have Aids, and I am from an abusive family, so I actually wanted to end my life. But when I got to know this organisation, I realised it was my new home. I know that I won’t have a long life, but I do want to use the time that I do have left in the best possible way. I want to play football, and I want to share my passion and experiences with others.” When I heard her say that, I knew that I wanted to help share these stories with larger audiences.

 

Was that the first time you really understood the impact that football can have on people’s lives?

In the context of social change, yes. I had known that football impacted millions of lives, often even from an early age, and I always saw it as a door towards connecting with other people from around the world. So I knew it as a way of connecting through a beautiful sport, but I hadn’t fully realized the social impact and the social dimension of football – not as a life-changing activity for disadvantaged communities. Not until I started working with streetfootballworld.

 

So initially, you were interested in football as a universal interest for people from different places. But was there another reason, something that had to do with you being a photographer or a footballer yourself?

Well, I was handballer. I played handball growing up rather than football. And I also didn’t think much about photography when I first started being interested in football. What really attracted me to the sport was the passion, the way it brought people together both on and off the field. It can unite people from all places – I noticed this before joining streetfootballworld, and I loved it.

 

Did you ever feel like football was more of a “man’s” sport?

It was always more a man thing which was a bit sad. But I was really passionate about what the field could achieve in terms of impacting people’s lives.

Not long after I started working with you guys, I began to look more into DISCOVER FOOTBALL and gender equality in sports, and it gave me new insight into the awesome things that are happening in women’s football.

 

In any case, though, football has been a male-dominated sphere, and at the time, it didn’t bother me much. I liked the game, I liked how it was connecting people. I just wished that the money being generated would have been spent differently.

 

After the Football for Hope Event in Khayelitsha gave you new insight into football for good, how did you continue getting involved?

I started doing more research into the field and, as I was working at the time, I couldn’t contribute as much time to photography as I would have liked. But then I met with DISCOVER FOOTBALL, and in 2010 they gave me the opportunity to focus on female-specific issues. This enabled me to meet several women with remarkable stories that I was able to document along the way.

 

Yet during that time, my work was more about focusing on documenting football events for streetfootballworld and DISCOVER FOOTBALL rather than people’s personal stories. But over the years, while working for both organizations, I adjusted my approach. I began focusing on the stories that I really wanted to share. I saw that football can help people with difficult backgrounds for example women who had used football to overcome extreme difficulties that stemmed from their gender or background.

 

But I also saw that football was helping people with all types of problems. For example, I met a boy from Poland through streetfootballworld who was struggling with family issues and personal problems and couldn’t gain access to a proper education. Even with issues like that, football was able to help get him back on track. Speaking to these people, I knew that I had to help get their stories out. Documenting the festivals was not enough anymore. I wanted to showcase the people that the programmes were reaching. Even if we can only highlight the experiences of 10 people from a group of 400, those 10 people, whether they’re from South America or Europe or Africa – they make a difference. Over time, if you share enough of their stories, they begin to have an impact on their audiences.

 

They lead to financial and social engagement from people who would have otherwise not known of the struggles many people face. If you report on these kinds of experiences, maybe people who do earn enough money would rather spend their extra earnings towards social development rather than personal leisure. But only if these stories are being told.

 

Of course, people know that these organisations exists. But they don’t always know exactly what they’re doing – they can’t imagine the actual impact these organisations have on the lives of individuals. But if you provide them with a face and a story – even if it is a painful story – you can create a bridge between two different worlds.  

 

You were in FFH Festival 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016…Your evolution as a photographer… what has changed since you started until now?

My photography style has changed in response to the situations that I am photographing. An example of how my photography and football for good come together can actually be told through Artur – the Polish boy I had mentioned earlier. I first met him in Serbia in 2011. He was a participant in one streetfootballworld’s festivals. I saw him again last year in Lyon, and in those five years, it was clear that he had gone through some very positive changes.

 

He had grown from a shy, thin boy into someone confidence, strong, and healthy. So, through my photography, I was trying to get beyond his mask. I wanted to see closer into his soul, to see who he really was, where he came from, and how football has helped him, all through my photos. So, in a way, my style of photography has adapted to my subjects and my desire to tell their stories.

 

So how can photography tangibly help make a difference in the field of football for good?

It’s about building connections through photography that would otherwise be difficult to relate to for people of different circumstances. When people see particularly relatable images, emotions are elicited.

If you photograph someone from a disadvantaged community who is playing football or cheering on a favourite team, it’s likely that someone from a well-to-do community who also takes an interest in football will be able to relate to and sympathize with the person within that photograph. This reaction helps organisations like streetfootballworld gain more visibility, more attention, and more supporters. It helps them grow.

So, with photography, I am seeking to highlight the alternative dimension of football. I am seeking to provoke the questions regarding the fact that while Messi gets paid millions of Euros, there is someone around the world with similar a passion and potential who will never have access to the same resources or opportunities.

 

So I’m trying to create an image of football that isn’t related to Messi or Villa or the top known names from the industry, but rather faces with new stories who also possess a sort of talent and passion, and whose lives and communities have been changed through football. These stories usually get some sort of reaction from their audiences.

 

And I know that there is still a long way to go. But this is the starting point. I will keep helping to provide this sort of content to support both streetfootballworld as well as the kids who take part in these programmes. For example, I am following a few young individuals from streetfootballworld’s network simply because I am impressed with their work and I want a closer look at how they are developing.

 

Do you think that photography can also help positively change a community as a whole? Can the photos themselves initiate a change in mentality and behaviour in a community?

In a way. You can always use photography as a means of confronting participants with their background and their reality. You can even use photography as a tool that enables members of a community to document their own lives and communities, perhaps allowing them to view their circumstances from an alternate perspective, a new lense.

 

What are the topics that you find more interesting, or the topics that concern you more than others? Why?

There are two areas that interest me the most. The first is festivals and events. When I do festivals and events, most of the time or often I focus only on 3 or 4 characters. Of course, I document the whole festival, but for myself, I identify 3 or 4 people that impress me and focus on their experience. From there, I like to focus on these few people and get to understand more precisely the experiences that led them to grow into the exceptional people they’ve become.

 

The second area that interests me is regarding history. I’ve always been interested in history – particularly the Arabic region. And as I began researching football and gender equality, as well as the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, the region was of increasing importance to me. I want to continue looking in to the region and the ways in which it confronts gender equality, and I haven’t decided which country would allow me to best explore that yet. I need to better understand the laws regarding photography in some of the countries, but in any case, I would really like to see where women stand today in that region. I’m interested in the amount of access women have to playing football in this region, and if and how the sport has been able to empower them.

 

What interest you most about the gender equality in the Middle East?

I am interested in better understanding the particular challenges they face, but also by the strength that women of this region must harbour. Even in the midst of political and social chaos, they continue to fight for their right to play and their right to speak up openly as women. I want to look behind the curtain about what this entails and to see how things are evolving over time.

 

Looks like you’ve chosen a complex combination. Football is, as we stated, quite male-dominated. And being a woman in the Middle East presents challenges that don’t necessarily surface in the “West.” Have you faced in difficulties being a female photographer during your trips through the Middle East?

I actually haven’t had any negative experiences being a female photographer in that region. But it may be because I am focusing on football for good. I’m not competing with many men because most male photographers are focused on the professional industry. I’ve actually noticed that more women focus on football for good rather than professional football. But regarding the Middle East, it is a complicated region. But I appreciate the culture and I wanted to crack it for myself. I want to show through my photographs that change is indeed possible.

 

What was your experience when you were taking the photos of the girls in Za’atari refugee camp?

My overall experience in the Za’atari camp was very positive. In this case, being a woman was immensely helpful. The women and girls trusted me more than if I were a man, and the boundaries vanished when I would explain to them, from the beginning, that I was there to help them get their stories out. When I told them that I was hoping to help gain them and their community’s more visibility, they were on board. I also send them my material, and they really love that.

 

And it’s an incredible experience for me because I get to meet these young girls and hear their stories. There was this one girl – she was so cute, they all were – and she was telling me about how she remembers her days back in Syria, and how she wants to become a national footballer and a teacher so that she can teach other girls to be strong and proud of themselves.

 

It makes me what to just go back with this girl to her home and document where she grew up, where she comes from, and to follow her all the way through and really show how she managed to manifest her dream.

 

So through my interactions with the girls in the Za’atari camp, I really became engaged and interested in the lives of these young individuals. Of course, you can’t be a part of everyone’s life that you meet, but it goes back to why I like to focus on 3-4 individuals. It lets me showcase what is special about their experiences, and what it means to be a leader, and I want to portray the lives of these kinds of people in order to give my audience the courage to emulate them in one way or another.

 

Do you feel that, seeing as there is an overdose of imagery online, photography has lost its message in the crowd of photos being circulated on a daily basis?

It is overwhelming, I have to admit. Of course, I have my certain interests and my specific area of photography, so I’m not competing with all photographers who are looking to make a living from their work. But sometimes, simply taking photos and uploading them somewhere isn’t enough to get organisations or participants the visibility that they need. Photos alone aren’t enough – there needs to be a story behind them, in combination with a request or a call to action for the audience. So the type of creations that I do are not necessarily in conflict with the millions of images floating around cyberspace.

 

Do you have a highlight story or anecdotes – a moment of satisfaction that photography has contributed to your life?

There have been many, but meeting Artur, the Polish boy I mentioned, made me really happy. When I came to Lyon last year and saw him again after 5 years, and seeing what a positive force football had been for him, it was a great feeling. I saw how he grew into a leader and being able to speak with him about the steps he had taken over the years made me so happy. We exchanged words on what he had been up to, and I gave him my perspective about his growth, and it was amazing! I saw him and my heart was laughing all over!

 

Is there anything else that you think is important or interesting to highlight?

Even though I never played football, I’ve always had a passion for the sport. It has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve come in contact with it both through the camera lens, as well as through my travels. Considering the fact that, currently, the world is really quite packed with new events every day, I think we are living in the perfect time to showcase the power that football has. It can really change everyone’s life – whether it’s a young girl or older woman. So with all the craziness going on, football can help us make the change that is direly needed at this point in time.

 

 

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